They Eat Puppies, Don't They? By Christopher Buckley Grand Central, 2013 352 pp.; $15.00 paper

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?
By Christopher Buckley
Grand Central, 2013
352 pp.; $15.00 paper

The giant military contractor Groepping-Sprunt has a problem. Their executives dream of building the ultimate 21st-century weapon: a “predator drone the size of a commercial airliner,” complete with Gatling guns, Hellfire missiles, and cluster bombs. But Congress is balking at the multi-billion-dollar price tag. A “breathtakingly large and lethal killing machine” like this—let alone the even more deadly materiel they have secretly planned—requires a similarly large and lethal enemy. And right now, it’s not clear that America has one. 

But two unlikely saviors think they have the answer. Walter “Bird” McIntyre is a lobbyist for the fictional Groepping- Sprunt by day and a budding spy novelist by night. Angel Templeton is a right-wing political pundit at an equally fictitious think tank, the Institute for Continuing Conflict, who relishes her frequent appearances on cable TV news and named her 8-year-old son after Barry Goldwater. Together they unearth an enemy worthy of Groepping-Sprunt’s wondrous new weaponry: China. 

Such is the premise of Christopher Buckley’s latest political satire, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? The son of conservative scion William F. Buckley, he has previously skewered Big Tobacco, the Supreme Court, the Middle East, and American retirees. His 1994 novel, Thank You for Smoking, on the US tobacco industry, was adapted into the successful 2005 film comedy of the same name. In his newest effort—first published in 2012 and now issued in paperback—Buckley sets his sights on such varied targets as the military-industrial complex, American right-wing politics, Civil War reenactors, and, of course, the Middle Kingdom. 

The story divides its time between Washington and Beijing. While the Washington half focuses on Angel and Bird, the Beijing chapters revolve around the recently appointed Chinese president, Fa Mengyao. Fa is facing down two disloyal lieutenants, the prickly ministers of defense and state security, while simultaneously suffering the combined indignities of insomnia and indigestion. Now he must also do what he can to avoid the very hostilities Bird and Angel are gallantly trying to provoke. Their would-be conflagration centers on the familiar flashpoint of Tibet and a possible plot to assassinate His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 

Buckley’s novel follows the familiar conventions of a modern airport thriller: short chapters, quick cuts, an unlikely romance, and a sometimes bewildering array of characters. The 18 major “players” are helpfully listed before the first chapter, in case we get lost later on (which we probably will, and more than once). Buckley maintains a brisk pace, injecting more than enough suspense into his eminently readable prose to keep readers engaged throughout. His humor is broad but largely successful, and derives mostly from the fact that his conceit is somehow both patently absurd and yet entirely believable. 

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