A pair of thrillers: Greg Barron’s SAVAGE TIDE and Steve Worland’s COMBUSTION

It’s probably not fair of me to lump books together like this purely because they share a genre but I’m afraid my reading has outpaced my reviewing by a country mile over the past month or so and I’m a little desperate to catch up

TheSavageTideGregBarron21017_fGreg Barron’s SAVAGE TIDE is the follow up to ROTTEN GODS and once again pits intelligence officer Marika Hartmann and friends against a particularly nasty breed of evil-doers bent on causing the collapse of civilisation. It opens with a confrontingly realistic massacre of a group of school children and their teachers in eastern Africa. The people responsible for this atrocity are led by one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. And this incident is only the beginning of what he has planned.

Marika works for the squirreliest arm of Britain’s Secret Service and along with ex-Special Forces operative PJ Johnson and a small team they cross some of the hottest spots in the world today a they try to get ahead of the terrorists. Who make the job even harder by having a well-placed operatives in unexpected quarters including near the centre of operations at Marika’s home base.

Barron make this more than the standard thriller on two levels. He offers intelligent insights into the mass of complexity that is modern international relations and includes some fantastically memorable characters. Like Kifimbo, a soldier and Marika’s local guide in Somalia, who is haunted by the things he has seen and becomes attached to the infant survivor of the massacre he witnesses. And Ayanna, the Somali village girl who dreams of a different life than the one she is destined for. Even the bad guys are fleshed out so that readers understand what motivates their actions even when we find them abhorrent.

As with the first book I did find SAVAGE TIDE a bit long, too densely detailed at some points, but it seemed to move at a quicker pace and I was compelled to keep reading. The short chapters, each showing action from London to Iran to Somalia and a half-dozen other places besides, help provide the sense of speed the novel offers. It’s always a good sign that a book will leave a lasting impression when, days later, I am still wondering how a character is coping with the injuries they incurred. I hope there’ll be a third novel in the series so I can find out.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

CombustionSteveWorland22197_fCOMBUSTION is also a second novel in a series and though in this instance I haven’t read the first Worland provided enough information about events that unfurled there for me not to feel left out (yet not too much that I feel I couldn’t go back and read the first). An alleged environmentalist with more money than sense unleashes his horrific plan to ensure people finally stop relying on fossil fuel-burning engines on the freeways of Los Angeles and it falls to NASA astronaut Judd Bell and his Australian, helicopter-pilot friend Corey Purchase to stop the mayhem.

Worland makes no secret of the fact his background is in movies, in fact his website’s claim is that his books offer the best action movie you’ll ever read. There are some up-sides to this background – the action is full on and there isn’t a lot of unnecessary filler – though overall this style of book is not really my cup of tea. I have been known to skim-read the action passages in thrillers (fight sequences and descriptions of equipment and weaponry being among my least favourite subjects to read) but in this instance doing so wouldn’t leave a lot else behind. We do get a bit of a back story to Judd and Corey but there’s really sod all to explain how the madman at the centre of the evil plot got to the point where he could internalise the hypocrisy of claiming to be an environmentalist while plotting to kill millions and ruin the west coast of America for a decade or so. But the action is made enjoyable by the vein of humour, depicted most notably in the easy banter between Judd and Corey and the unique relationship between Corey and his faithful dog Spike.

I do have to have a tiny whine about two elements of the writing though. By the end of the novel I was gritting my teeth at the constant brand name dropping as characters glanced at their Tag Heuers, reached for their iPhones (no Android devices in the whole of LA apparently), leapt into their Priuses (Priusi?) and otherwise acted like shills for the hippest of (presumably deep-pocketed) companies. And while I know this is going to highlight my status as a grumpy old woman (as if I’ve been keeping that a secret) I’d also had enough of gratuitous italicisation. As in “…the rubble is right at his heels…” and “…seems to gather speed…”.  Why?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Of course discussing books together like this almost demands comparison, however unreasonable that may be, and as I did read the books in close succession I did compare them naturally anyway. For my taste SAVAGE TIDE is the preferable novel because I like subtext and learning what makes people tick more than I like the adrenalin-rush action of things blowing up and in-the-nick-of-time escapes (though SAVAGE TIDE has those elements too). But COMBUSTION is a lot of fun and, if they get the casting right keep their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, will make a romp of an action movie.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Harper Collins [2013]
ISBN 9780733294366
Length 482 pages
Format paperback

Publisher Penguin [2013]
ISBN 9781921901119
Length 323 pages
Format paperback

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This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: ROTTEN GODS, Greg Barron

Synopsis (Publisher)

A new wave of terror threatens a world torn by inequality, conflict, economic disaster and environmental chaos.

Heads of state gather in Dubai in an attempt to bring society back from the brink of global catastrophe. But  when extremists hijack the conference centre, the clock starts ticking: seven days until certain death for presidents and prime ministers alike, unless the terrorists′ radical demands are met.

A treasonous British diplomat, an Australian intelligence officer, an airline pilot searching for his missing daughters, a mysterious Somali agent, and a disillusioned UN official are all forced to examine their motives, faith and beliefs as they attempt to stave off disaster,
hurtling towards the deadline and a shattering climax.

Rotten Gods is both an imaginative tour de force and a dire warning, holding the reader spellbound until the last breathtaking page.

Blurb from Amazon Kindle

It took seven days to create the world … now they have seven days to save it.

Extremists hijack the conference centre where heads of state have gathered in an attempt to bring society back from the brink of global environmental catastrophe, and the clock starts ticking: seven days until certain death for presidents and prime ministers alike, unless the terrorists′ radical demands are met.

Marika, an Australian intelligence officer, Isabella, a treasonous British diplomat, Simon, an
airline pilot searching for his missing daughters, and Madoowbe, a mysterious Somali agent, are all forced to examine their motives, faith and beliefs as they attempt to stave off disaster, hurtling towards the deadline and a shattering climax.

My Take

ROTTEN GODS is not a quick read, but don’t let that put you off – it is well worth your attention and signals the arrival another Australian author to put on your “look for” list. There is nothing about this book to indicate it is a debut title. The plotting is well executed and the writing is tight, with plenty of detail and plenty of depth.

The fact that the action is on a 7 day deadline heightens the tension. There are four main plot arenas and the story moves easily from one to the other. What doesn’t sit so easily for the Western reader is the account of the damage their lifestyle has done, and continues to do, to the global environment. So this becomes a book with a message as well. It also highlights the attractiveness of extremist action for those who feel that the world, or at least those responsible for environmental policy, is not listening.

My rating: 4.8

I was reminded of the plot of THE LORDS’ DAY by Michael Dobbs in which the Queen is taken hostage by terrorists at the opening of Parliament in the House of Lords. ROTTEN GODS however is far more global in its theme.

Other reviews to consider

About the author

Greg Barron has lived in both North America and Australia, and studied
International Terrorism at Scotland’s prestigious St Andrew’s
University. He has visited five of the world’s seven continents, once
canoed down a flooded tropical river, and crossed Arnhem Land on foot.
Greg’s writing reflects his interests in political, social and
environmental change. He lives on a small farm in Eastern Australia’s
coastal hinterland with his wife and two sons.

His website.

A second title, SAVAGE TIDE, is already available.

Review: ROTTEN GODS by Greg Barron

In the near future world leaders gather in Dubai to discuss the multiple crises facing the planet: environmental degradation, climate change and economic collapse. But the man designated to give the opening address, a doctor and humanitarian worker, instead threatens the audience with explosives and, along with other armed terrorists, locks down the the conference hall which turns the leaders and their respective entourages into high profile hostages. Over the next seven days the terrorists host mock trials and executions of leaders inside the hall while waiting to see if their grand demands will be met and outside people scramble for solutions.

ROTTEN GODS is a big book in both word count and scope and it could have done with being a shade smaller on both counts. It’s clear from both the story itself and the author interview incorporated at the end of the edition I read that Barron wanted to write more than a bog standard action thriller. And he has. The book does explore ideas and it does so from multiple perspectives. For example while never portraying terrorism in a positive light or condoning the practice in any way the book does do a good job of showing how some terrorists are formed out of sheer desperation and frustration at the injustices of their worlds. For me the exploration of the planet’s environmental and consumerism problems was less successful, though equally well intentioned. Some of the passages relating to these issues did cross the line into lecturing the reader and that always raises my hackles both because I read enough non-fiction about these subjects and because it takes me out of the story.

That issue aside the book offered a jolly good yarn, with loads of heart-stopping action in exotic locations and a smattering of non-standard thriller characters. Simon is an English man whose diplomat wife has inadvertently allowed herself to be seduced by one of the terrorists which has resulted in her being held hostage with the other leaders and her two daughters being kidnapped. His ensuing hunt to find the girls shows just what lengths a mild-mannered airline pilot might go to when pushed too far. Marika Hartmann is an Australian intelligence officer assigned to work with the Dubai security forces for the duration of the conference and, feeling guilty because she sensed something was amiss before the terrorists took over but did not act, she volunteers to parachute into Somalia in an effort to locate the wife of the man who led the terrorists into the Dubai conference hall. She’s a no nonsense woman who injects a bit of humour into what is otherwise a fairly grim story and is a very enjoyable character.

I can forgive début novelists for including too much in their first novel (all those ideas building up for years) and there are more than enough other elements here to show Barron’s promise as a writer of intelligent thrillers that entertain as well as make us think. In what seems to be my standard complaint I think ROTTEN GODS would have been better if it were a hundred pages shorter but books-as-doorstops do seem to be somewhat de rigueur these days. Overall though it is a solidly entertaining read, gathering pace as it goes and posing several plausible, if uncomfortable, ‘what if’ scenarios for our collective near future.

My rating: 4/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Harper Collins [2012]
ISBN: 9780732294342
Length: 457 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: provided by the publisher for review
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.