Lethal Sky is the third in Australian author Greg Barron’s high octane series of thrillers which started with Rotten Gods and continued in Savage Tide. Knowing the characters from the earlier books would help a little, but no real familiarity is required to enjoy this guns and toys terrorist hunt. Once again his main characters Marika Hartmann and PJ Johnson are on the trail of the world’s most dangerous man, the moustache-twirling Badi al-Zaman al Hamadhani al-Assadi (yes, that’s right, a bad guy called Badi). Badi is the illegitimate son of Bashar al Assad and runs a multinational company that transcends religion and instead represents the interests of all of the world’s worst dictators. Badi wants to use his company to bring down Western civilisation.
Lethal Sky follows directly on from the events in Savage Tide. Hartmann and Johnson have recovered from the injuries they sustained in their last encounter with Badi. Hartmann is headed back from the UK to Sydney for a well earned rest and Johnson is offered the chance to join an even more secret organisation that will involve breaking all ties and becoming a “ghost”. But they are not given much time to rest. Badi has found a way to weaponise a deadly form of anthrax and is planning to wipe out the world’s major cities, starting with Sydney. This leads to a fantastic set piece in which Hartmann tries to stop a light plane from dropping its deadly cargo on the Sydney CBD. The action then moves to London where Badi is planning to use drone technology to deliver his payload of death across Europe.
Lethal Sky is set in the very near future. Its focus, besides global terrorism and the threat of bioweapons, is the use of drones and drone technology. Short breakouts at the start of each part of the book chart the development and capabilities of these devices from hunting for and killing terrorists, to monitoring traffic to delivering books for Amazon. Among the action Barron has a point to make here - that drones are merely a tool and a tool only becomes a weapon if we choose to make it one.
Barron pushes other philosophical positions through Lethal Sky – including the questionable practice of keeping samples of deadly diseases – and dabbles with a utopian political approach epitomised by an obscure tribe in Myanmar. But, in the end, Lethal Sky is about the adrenaline rush of the world in danger.
Barron’s cast of characters and plot are straight out of the techno-thriller playbook – besides the gung-ho heroes and the monologuing villain, there is the bio-weapon boffin unravelling the secrets of the deadly strain of anthrax, the techno boffin helping to stop the drones while seeking redemption for past misdeeds, and Badi’s beautiful but slightly unhinged lover. There is also a vaguely connected subplot involving a group of British ultra-nationalists who want to use their knowledge of the terrorist threat as an excuse to take out their rage on England’s immigrant population.
Lethal Sky is, overall, a well written and engaging thriller. Barron has plenty of techno-exposition but it never overwhelms the plot which drives forward relentlessly. Barron shows in this book that he can wield the clichès effectively and hold his own with the best in this genre.