A true-to-life tale of corruption and intrigue

Book Review

Special Play$: Win the Game!
Bob McAndrew
Amazon, April 28, 2020

[Note: I worked for Bob McAndrew when he was Director of International Sales at the Lockheed plant in Marietta, GA, where they still build the C-130 Hercules cargo plane. I did not, however, have anything to do with Egypt. The true events that inspired this novel might have happened before I joined International Sales (There was an Egyptian bribery scandal at Lockheed in the late 1980s. Here’s a brief description from the LA Times: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1995-01-28-fi-25231-story.html.)]

Here’s the problem. Your company makes airplanes both for the US Department of Defense and for sales to most of the rest of the world. The only countries you can’t sell to are the bad guys du jour — think North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, etc. This means you spend a lot of time trapsing around what used to be known as the “Third World,” where the company issues you a sick sack full of assorted medicines and wishes you the best of luck. Compared to many places we worked, Egypt was quite nice.

Another problem, apart from staying alive, is that many prospective customers tend to define “corruption” quite a bit differently that we do. This map will give you the idea (red is bad): https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2019/results. As an American company, we were bound by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prescribes severe penalties for violating our standards of corruption, regardless of what the locals typically do.

Meanwhile, the factory was constantly churning out airplanes, and we had to go sell them to somebody. Somehow. Positions in the corporate hierarchy, not to mention salaries and bonuses, were at stake, so the pressure to move the product was high.

Finally, although we made the only aircraft of its kind — 4-engine turboprop, heavy-duty transport suitable for troops and cargo as well as humanitarian relief, all into and out of short, poorly prepared air fields — money is “fungible,” that is, it can move around and be used for all sorts of things other than cargo aircraft. So even though we had no direct competition, there were always lots of competing uses for what little money most of these countries did have. And some of our competitors for this money didn’t seem to worry as much about foreign corrupt practices as we did.

Put all this together and you can start to understand why people sometimes cut ethical corners.

Bob McAndrew tells a tale of one such campaign. If you’re interested in how big time corruption — as the US defines it — works, this is the book for you. Imagine Goodfellas meets Deal of the Century.

I’ll be honest, great literature it’s not. Every few pages, he weaves in a summary of a 49ers game, leading to their victory in the 1990 Super Bowl. I’m as big a Joe Montana fan as anybody, but I’m still trying to figure out what this adds to the story. You may find it works for you, but to me, it was distracting. And character development is a little weak. Frankly, after some 200 pages, I had no sympathy, and little empathy, for the characters and figured most got what they deserved. Was justice served? Don’t forget that this is inspired by “true events,” so Bob was constrained in what the Fates could do.

As for the story itself, though, it moves right along. You get to be a spider on the walls of all kinds of conspiratorial meetings and then watch how they play out. You’ll see how the participants ensure they are taken care of, and how they deal with potential roadblocks (no, not floating face down in the Nile.) Once you get into it, it can easily become a page turner, and with little effort, I can see a Netflix movie.

All in all, a light and entertaining addition to your quarantine reading list.