Apricot Marmalade and the Edmondson Transmittal
Apricots never make an appearance in Apricot Marmalade and the Edmondson Transmittal by Lon Orey. What ensues instead is a hilarious tale of dysfunctional alphabet intelligence agencies operating in Vietnam-era Thailand. Ed Reynolds, the protagonist, is a reluctant warrior serving out his military stretch as an intelligence officer in a United States Army Military Intelligence unit. MI, as it is known, competes with the CIA, the Thai government intelligence agency known as the AFSC, and other assorted acronym agencies to gather intelligence about Soviet spies and the Thai communist party.
Reynolds and his fellow MI officers are led by Colonel Morgan, perhaps one of the most ill-suited intelligence agents ever to grace the pages of a spy novel. Morgan, along with his second in command Major Harris, a Doctor Strangelove type whose existence consists of washing his beloved red Mercedes and a desire to use nuclear weapons to solve all problems, seek to uncover the meaning of the mysterious Edmondson transmittal. The transmittal is the work of Agent Edmondson, who later encounters untoward circumstances. Finding and decoding the transmittal is the centerpiece of the conflict, as the MI team work to uncover a deadly plot that threatens their existence.
Written in a comedic, satirical style reminiscent of Catch 22, Apricot Marmalade and the Edmonson Transmittal is populated by intelligence agents who give truth to the oxymoron “military intelligence.” Orey populates the story with characters such as Trooper Cooper, a hypochondriac who internalizes every discussion about disease states, and Irv Bonner, an agent with an irrational fear of snakes who works in a country filled with poisonous ones. There is also Sargent Barnett, who takes up residence in a tent in the center of the city park so as to be better prepared should the unit have to go live in the jungle. This is a gang that can’t shoot straight, and one comic endeavor after another ensues. The scenes featuring Morgan attempting to bug his CIA counterpart’s office and the hilarious prisoner exchange with the Soviets are worth the price of admission alone.
The novel presents the reader with a realistic sense of place, as Thailand’s steaming, snake-infested jungles and humid cities set the backdrop for the action. The characters are all unique, with believable foibles and weaknesses. This is not the stuff of a James Bond movie, rather it presents the realism and comedy inherent in the human condition of mediocre intelligence agents struggling with the meaning of their work against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. As to the apricot marmalade of the title? I will leave its meaning to the reader to uncover.
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