Noted political journalist, Michael Brissenden, has taken some time out away from the news to turn his hand to crime-fiction writing in a novel that also places the cost of Australia’s participation in futile wars in the Middle East to the fore. Charles Sturt University academic, Therese Taylor, gives her take on The List.
As a journalist, the author Michael Brissenden has covered topics such as this one, reported on ABC News back in September 2013: “A Defense report has found there was not adequate protection for 3 Australian soldiers who were killed in an insider attack from Afghanistan last year. Three ADF members are facing disciplinary action. The families of the dead men say the report is not good enough and …”
And news reports go on, telling us about the dangers of Afghanistan and the stories which circulate around terror threats at home. While working on these serious news stories, Michael Brissenden took the time to write a novel, where the themes of Middle East wars coming home to Australia are set out in the form of a thriller.
An article by Linda Morris in The Age on 2 Aug 2017, states that: “The List’s plot and characters were informed by a long time spent reporting on defence and national security matters, but Brissenden said there were no state secrets buried in the text.”
What a pity! But we need not take that statement by Michael Brissenden too seriously. He has lived a long time close to centres of power. Surely he has some good tips from insiders to convey to us.
The List has a range of Australian male characters who are being physically or emotionally destroyed by their jobs. Their dilemmas are set out briskly and realistically. The female characters, most especially the Muslim woman police officer, are less convincingly drawn. I spotted the villain early, but one does not get the full picture until the final twist.
The city of Sydney is described with verve, but more could be said about the streets of Lakemba where some of the action scenes play out. One has the impression that Surry Hills is real to the author, and Lakemba is drive by. The descriptions of Canberra are very well done – and so they should be. This is the writing of a political journalist. I enjoyed the interior dialogue of the leading politician very much, although I thought he seemed a bit too worried about the future of media in the digital age. That sounded like something thought out by a person whose career is in the media.
WATCH MICHAEL BRISSENDEN DISCUSS HIS CRIME-FICTION NOVEL, THE LIST
(VISION: ABBEY’S BOOKSHOP / YOUTUBE)
The List offers a speedy story where dramas arise out of fanaticism, disadvantage and revenge. At some points, the novel makes reference to earlier histories of violence, in places such as Ireland, and indicates how these echo on in Australia, but it does not say much about that. Also, one of the leading characters comes from Griffith, in the Riverina, but only remembers that there was some talk of the mafia in that place. What an understatement. The terrorist fanatics seem to be self-propelled, one does not fully understand their motives.
If one is looking for some reflections on current controversies, there is only one which I could spot. In a dramatic scene at the end of the novel, there are references to the refusal to take a sniper shot at an active terrorist in full view of the police marksman. This appears to be a reference to controversies and rumours which still surround the story of the Lindt Cafe siege in Sydney. It is intriguing and interesting.
One of the leading characters in the novel is an Australian ex-serviceman from Afghanistan. He is wrecked and ruined, but driven on by an impetus to violence. This character will no doubt be seen again and again, in both fiction and in real life, because of the long-term toll of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan. Michael Brissenden has written up some strong and relevant themes.
The List, Michael Brissenden, Hachette Australia, 2017; ISBN 987 0 7336 3742 1.
The book, to list its library keywords on the inside cover, covers Police, Australia, Terror, Muslim men and Murder victims – all in fictional form.