Book Title: DOUBLE BACK
Author: Mark Abernethy
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
No of Pages: 433
It is August 1999 and the poor, repressed province of Indonesia – East Timor – is building for its chance at independence with the UN-supervised ballot. As the Australian government attempts to stay friendly with both the East Timorese independence movement and the Indonesian generals, Aussie spy Alan McQueen is sent into Dili to discover the whereabouts of Bill Yarrow – an East Timor-based intelligence asset for Australian SIS who has disappeared.
As Mac closes on the truth, and the body-count rises from the pre-independence massacres, he finds himself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse where the Indonesian military is acting in defiance of its own president. Staying one step ahead of Indonesian intelligence with the aid of the Filipino mercenary Bongo Morales, Mac slowly uncovers a much deadlier medical program that could spell genocide on the troubled island. As he struggles to stop the planned decimation of the East Timorese, he finds that the identity of the atrocity’s perpetrators might be too sensitive for the Australian government to handle.
I really really really hope that, in particular, local fans of spy and espionage thrillers are reading Mark Abernethy's terrific series. Firstly because each of the stories is set in our own region, and secondly because Alan McQueen is such a quintessential Aussie bloke hero type.
Of course, just setting books in our region or taking current day events as a basis for your books doesn't qualify them as must reads. What does that for DOUBLE BACK and the earlier books in the series is that they are extremely good layered high-action thrillers.
Part of the attraction of the books is Alan 'Mac' McQueen who is just about bullet-proof, but with a heart and human foibles. He's the sort of bloke that would appeal to men and women equally - fearless but not stupid about it, caring but not woosy about it, loyal but not in the face of upper echelon idiocy, Mac is an extremely good central character to weave the plots around. What also works is the settings and timeframes into which Abernethy drops MacQueen. In the case of DOUBLE BACK we are deep into the time leading up to the Indonesians being forced out of Timor. What's particularly scary is that you really have to hope that the scenario the author builds is purely fictional as it's chillingly realistic and frighteningly brutal.
But this is a military style thriller, so there is a lot of rushing about, a commensurate amount of sneaking about, and a lot of shooting and shouting. There are some great bit players in the cast - and there's some very realistic and quite funny dialogue amongst them all. Because this is such a good thriller there is also quite a good sense of place - the jungles of East Timor are dark, dangerous and damp. The towns and cities littered with sinister types with an oversupply of sunglasses.
DOUBLE BACK really is a terrific thriller - fast paced, with a good and very realistic plot. The sense of menace is particularly poignant knowing the history of the East Timorese struggle against the Indonesian army, and the scenario that Abernethy builds into the plot is particularly chilling. Having only recently gotten hold of DOUBLE BACK I was particularly pleased to see that the next book in the series COUNTER ATTACK was released in January 2010. Excellent!