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Fiction Epistolary

Seven Down

by (author) David Whitton

Dundurn Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2021
Epistolary, Political, Satire
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2021
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2021
    List Price

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In this quirky, character-driven debut novel seven hotel employees puzzle out the events of a botched assassination attempt — the next read for fans of Fredrik Backman (Anxious People) and Matt Haig (The Midnight Library).
Finalist for the 2022 Crime Writers of Canada Award for Best First Novel

Seven ordinary hotel employees. Catering, Reservations, Management. Seven moles, waiting for years for a single code word, a trigger that will send them into action in a violent event that will end their dull lives as they know them.

The event has failed: the action was a disaster. Each employee is being debriefed by an agent of an invisible organization. These are the transcripts of those interviews. What they reveal is not just the intricate mechanism of an international assassination, but the yearnings inside each of its pawns, the desperation and secret rage that might cause any one of us to sign up, sell out, and take a plunge into darkness.

Both sinister and absurd, Seven Down is a puzzle to be solved, a comedy, and a panorama of life. At once sociological, satirical, and scary, it paints portraits of the mundane human failings behind geopolitical machinations.


About the author

David Whitton is the author of The Reverse Cowgirl, a story collection. His short fiction has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Darwin's Bastards, Best Canadian Stories, and Journey Prize Stories. He is a graduate of the University of Guelph Creative Writing MFA program. He lives in Toronto.


David Whitton's profile page


  • Short-listed, Crime Writers of Canada Award for Best First Novel

Excerpt: Seven Down (by (author) David Whitton)


Classified By: CDA Officer T. Weber for reasons: 1.4 (b) and (d).

ASSET ID: “RESERVATIONS” [Legal name Summer Johnson]
MARCH 8, 2022 — 21:04 GMT

1 day after Operation Fear and Trembling

[Preliminary comments redacted.]

—I was unwell, yes. I was shivery, nauseous, my brain throbbed behind my eyes. A stomach bug, I thought at first, before my self-diagnosis grew more ominous. I couldn’t, though, I just couldn’t let my mind go there. And then of course, me being me, it did anyway. Why do women vomit in the mornings? I couldn’t allow myself to consider it. That I might be, fuck. Not now, not now, it would be so unfair. I’ve been mostly careful, all this time, with Steve, we almost always use raincoats. I’m sorry, you said you wanted everything. Is this, am I oversharing? You said you wanted details. And also it’s important that you understand, I guess, the ordeal that you … that I endured. As if the situation weren’t bad enough, I had contracted some kind of norovirus, or else I was … plus it was a Monday, the timing was so awful. Plus Steve and I had stayed up late the night before, mostly drinking, but also … being intimate, so I was hungover and underslept. That really didn’t help, believe me.

—So, if we could maybe skip any extraneous —

—Actually, I don’t believe these details are in any way extraneous, because, if I may? Because it’s important you understand the sacrifices I’ve made. It doesn’t diminish my regard for, it doesn’t mean I’m not happy that I, plus maybe, if I might? For the sake of the next person, you’ll stop scheduling these things on a Monday, when people maybe are statistically more likely to be hungover and underslept and feeling vulnerable? I’m sorry. That was, that was not called for. I’m, where was I?

—Your description of the day of the operation. It was 5:15 in the morning.

—It was 5:15 in the morning, yes, thank you. I’m front of house, I work the morning shift, seven to three, so I wake up with the birds. Steve was still in bed, he wouldn’t get up for another couple of hours. I was standing at the kitchen counter, trying to tamp down the bile with a fruit smoothie.

—Nice. What kind of fruit?

—Here we go again. What does that have to do with anything? Why would you care? It was a guava-pineapple concoction, mixed with yogurt. It helps me digest, if that’s important for you to know. It helps me go to the bathroom. Sorry, sorry. I imagine you must be recording this. That thing in the ceiling, it’s a device? A microphone? Okay. Sorry. I’m just tired. I don’t know how to feel right now. I didn’t expect you to be handsome. You people, in my mind you all look like sixty-year-old tax lawyers, but your hair, it’s so wavy, it’s almost distracting.

The light outside. On Monday. It was that odd predawn blue black. The light inside was warm and yellow and it was so comforting I considered calling in sick. Coffee was steeping in the Bodum. The smell of that, the aroma … And I felt an intense grief for the morning I wouldn’t have, you know, reading a book in bed, sipping coffee, next to Steve.

—Right, again I’ll remind you that —

—Just, if you could give me a moment, [Redacted]? May I call you [Redacted]? I’m setting a scene.

—Please make it brief.

—Okay, so. Intense moment of grief. I rode it out. Then, staring at nothing, a souvenir magnet on the fridge of the San Jacinto Aerial Tramway, Palm Springs, California, I remembered that I was forgetting something. What was it? My morning routine was smoothie, coffee, and then, what was it? Oh yeah, Twitter, I had to check Twitter. I picked up my phone, hit the app. I’ve been doing this for so many years it hardly serves to call it a habit; it’s a lifestyle by now. I refreshed my Twitter feed and, per my ritual, scrolled backwards. It’s a way of putting it off, the inevitable, I suppose. I could have just gone straight there, to the account, but you can imagine how —

—I’m sorry, which account is this?

—The account that you guys made me follow. Unfavorable semicircle, it’s called, with an at sign in front of it. You really don’t know about it?

—Not my department. Go on.

—Well, you can imagine how it terrified me. Every day I was like, what would I see there, what phrase or aphorism or gibberish would @unfavorablesemicircle spew into my feed? Mostly I follow celebrities — Miley Cyrus, Lizzo, some stand-up comedians. The odd news account. Dril, of course. And sometimes I get sucked in, all the bickering, every day there’s a scandal. But inevitably, in the middle of all my slack-jawed scrolling, there would be this live hand grenade in the form of @unfavorablesemicircle, which blew it all up. Sometimes I wouldn’t even realize I was reading one of your tweets, I was so glassy-eyed. I’d read something like “The greatest hazard of all, losing oneself, can occur very quietly in the world” and think, Jesus, Miley’s off her meds, and then snap to and see your stupid username and my reverie would be ruined, I’d be back in my kitchen with my goddamn phone.

But after that I’d look around, at the fridge magnet, the coffee maker, Steve’s bottle of CBD oil on the counter by the microwave. And I’d become, I don’t know. Happy, maybe. The world, no matter how shit the weather, no matter how toxic the morning’s news, the world would just sparkle, you know? Whatever it was that would one day be required of me, whatever important or terrible thing, it wouldn’t be today. Today was a bonus day. That’s how it felt to me.

Last Monday, though … god, last Monday? Yesterday, I mean. Yesterday I stared at that black slab in my hand with horrified disbelief. It was the trigger phrase, written in light on the screen of my phone. As if somehow my fear of those words had called them into existence, and if only I could calm down they would disappear back into the pixels. I shut my eyes … one, two, three, four … opened them. And tried again. And still they were there, those words: “I stick my finger into existence and it smells of nothing.” Today was the day of the operation. I was not hallucinating. “I stick my finger into existence and it smells of nothing,” said @unfavorablesemicircle. Again I rejected this, I groped around for other plausible explanations. Someone somewhere could have pushed the wrong button. Why not? A quick check-in with Regional would clear it up, they would reassure me and send me on my way, which, a normal shitty day at work? Was looking pretty great right now.

It was maybe a minute. Maybe less. Maybe more. When it hit me. The trigger was real, it was not a mistake. I … I managed to make it to the kitchen sink before I barfed up my smoothie.

—Do you need to pause for a bit? Would you like some water?

—No, no, I [inaudible].

—That’s fine. Take your time.

—I tried to breathe. A three-part breath, expanding the stomach, then the ribs, then the clavicle. The kitchen was vibrating, I couldn’t get it to stop. I tried to think. Laptop, I thought then, per my training. In times of stress your thinking becomes primal. Go to laptop, Summer. Get laptop. I didn’t move. I stared at my coffee mug. My poor little coffee mug, waiting for me by the Bodum. Steve had brought it home from Newfoundland. It had Viking sod hut dwellings on it in gold embossed lines. My heart was busy breaking, looking at this mug, when along came my second thought. Today is the day, went the thought. This is what it’s all been about. Today is the day. And I didn’t know whether to be terrified or relieved. You didn’t have the decency. You didn’t tell me what to expect, what it was that I was supposed to do. But I guess you couldn’t, could you?

Editorial Reviews

Whitton pens a debut that is both comedic and introspective, skewering the attempts of an organization trying to find out what went wrong with the group of people it tried so hard to manipulate. This one is perfect for fans of quirky novels like those of Fredrik Backman and Jennifer Egan.


Hilarious and haunting… combines the paranoid atmosphere of Don DeLillo with the bureaucratic procedure and spy tradecraft of John le Carré, while evoking both laughter and horror.

Winnipeg Free Press

In Seven Down David Whitton shines klieg lights on the human condition with all its yearning, existential anxiety, and ridiculousness. With just the right amount of whodunnit and whydunit, this loopy and exhilaratingly tangential spy novel keeps the reader’s synapses firing on all cylinders.

Zsuzsi Gartner, author of Better Living through Plastic Explosives and The Beguiling

Highly amusing, and a much-needed antidote to the writings of too many spy novelists.

Ottawa Review of Books

Wildly original, economically written, profound, and very "now", Seven Down is a breath of fresh, vibrant literary air.

Kid Ferrous Reviews

A witty, sharply written and concise story.

Boyd Blog

Incredibly original! The writing is flawless, effortlessly weaving the events of the day together through the voices of seven sleeper agents, each with a distinct and unique personality creating a rich in-depth story you cannot possibly put down!

Partridge Pages

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