Redback by Lindy Cameron

Political thrillers which loosely base their settings and characters on real world players run the risk of having the work become outdated quickly but Redback reads like it could just as easily have been ripped from today’s news headlines (and conspiracy websites) as those of four years ago. It is a romp of a tale that I can’t seem to summarise intelligently. It involves a team of ex-soldiers and other specialists who retrieve hostages, kidnap victims and hapless travellers from the trouble spots they find themselves in. The team of Australians (and the odd Canadian), known as Redback, have to perform several rescues throughout the novel while at the same time a world-wide terrorism plot is being played out. Thanks to the work of an American journalist researching the computer games that governments develop as recruiting tools it becomes obvious to Redback and others that the terrorist activity is being orchestrated, or at least plotted, via versions of a game which are far more sinister than the original programmers envisioned.

Earlier this year, after being put to sleep by half of a fairly un-thrilling thriller, I thought at length about what I like in a thriller and Redback ticks virtually all of the boxes I came up with at the time. The plot is terrifically fast, being played out in short chapters set in various exotic locations. We move from a Pacific Island where a group of hostages has to be rescued by Redback to France and Texas and Pakistan and a half-dozen more places besides at quite a breakneck speed but I didn’t once feel as though it was all going too fast and Cameron is a master at providing just the right amount of exposition and background to hold the many threads together. There’s also a good mixture of the big events themselves, exploding trains and the like, and the impact of those events on the families of those killed and the government players who feel impotent at not being in control. In this thriller at least there are human consequences of killing, even if it’s one of the good guys doing the killing.

The Redback team is headed by the woman who came closest to being accepted to the Australian Army’s SAS unit, Bryn Gideon. She is highly physically and intellectually capable for the job at hand but also has a sense of humour which means, for me at least, that she is not as annoying as so many thriller heroes can be. In fact the whole Redback team is full of capable, funny people and the banter between them all is a highlight of the novel and picks up beautifully on some truly Australian characteristics. Other characters of interest are Jana Rossi, one of the original hostages rescued at the beginning of the book who goes on to maintain her relationship with the team and the American journalist Scott Dreher who becomes involved due to his investigations into computer games.

Aside from the overt humour in the book there is additional fun for readers in pondering which real-world political players some of the characters are based on. You don’t have to be a super politics junky to spot some traits of a recent US President for example and Aussies will have fun too picking out which players might be modelled on which members of the former Howard government. There are even some nods to issues which continue to this day, such as Australia’s absurd obsession with the notion that smart, rich terrorists would be entering the country via leaky boats when it’s far easier for them to fly in virtually unchallenged.

It’s not until you read a thriller that isn’t populated by American ex-soldiers and/or English spies saving the world that you realise how much of this genre is populated by those voices. It’s a nice change to see this kind of story played out by people with a different world-view. The fact that it is superbly plotted, has tremendously funny dialogue and engaging characters is icing on the cake. All I need now is the sequel.

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Redback has also been reviewed at Aust Crime Fiction

Lindy Cameron has been writing Australian crime fiction for years and has turned her hand to one of my favourite amateur sleuth novels (Golden Relic which I first encountered when it was published to coincide with an international museum curator’s convention being held here some years ago) and a private detective series as well as this thriller. She has also written true crime. Redback was re-released earlier this year by Cameron’s own new Australian genre publisher Clan Destine Press.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 4/5
Publisher Mira Books [2007]
ISBN 9781741165722
Length 402 pages
Format trade paperback
Source I bought it

Review originally published at Reactions to Reading on 5 Dec 2010