Thursday, March 03, 2005

Seduction by Maureen Tan

“Seduction” by Maureen Tan, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March/April 2005

The first sentence of this story, “Ian Fleming lied,” was enough to catch my interest. The main character goes on to say that seduction in the spy game is unnecessary and irrelevant.

This spy story doesn’t fit at all into the pigeonhole one normally associates with spy stories. The main character, a spy, is a black woman, 58 years old, who is about fifty pounds overweight and carries a large tapestry purse wherever she goes. She’s been in the spy business for forty years.

Corilla’s assignment this time is a thoroughly rude, unlikable, but brilliant physicist who is on the brink of a breakthrough on a new low-power propulsion system for small satellites. This man, Professor Smith, keeps all of his research in his lab and in his head. When he wants to make a report, he dictates to a typist. Since he is such a completely unlikable man, his typists don’t last long. Corilla becomes his new transcribing typist, one considerably more tolerant that the others.

Corilla bides her time until Professor Smith makes his breakthrough. She comes back after work and downloads all his research onto the laptop she carries in her large tapestry purse. She then goes to a coffee shop and sends the files to her bosses back in her country. Once they confirm that the information is good, she is to return to the professor’s lab, corrupt all his computer files, and, as a bonus, she gets to kill the rude son-of-a-bitch. After all, her bosses don’t want any competition for the new propulsion system they will be selling to the US military.

On her way to finish her assignment, Corilla finds something that introduces a twist into the ending, a twist that adds meaning to the title of the story.

I enjoyed “Seduction.” The characterization is excellent. Ms. Tan presents Professor Smikth as a complete bastard, referring to Corilla as “you there”. She also establishes Corilla as a consummate professional spy. I particularly liked the twist at the end.

In short, well worth the time.