GOLDEN SERPENT - Mark Abernethy
Espionage thrillers these days frequently put "the terrorists" in the old black hat role - the starring role the spies from the Soviet Union and the like used to occupy. The Terrorists in these incarnations can come from anywhere - they could be Russian (mafia or not), they can frequently be Middle Eastern, or as in Golden Serpent, they are Asian. One thing that doesn't really change that much is the nature of the threat - it tends to be huge, the weapons devastating, the results of their possible success vast and catastrophic. And in GOLDEN SERPENT, as you'd want in a good espionage thriller, it's a small band of brave men up against the unimaginable.
Okay, so it's not unheard of for that style of book to get really silly really quickly, especially if it's all feats of daring doing in darkened and dangerous places. Luckily GOLDEN SERPENT does do a fair amount of daring doing, but avoids silly by some distance. Possibly this is because the central protagonist - Australian Secret Intelligence Service operative Alan "Mac" McQueen, has done a lot in his Military Intelligence life, but real life is tempting him. For all the good old fashioned reasons. He's met a girl and he really thinks Diane is "the one". His problem is that he doubts a life married to the service is a big selling point, so he's trying to get out. But, as you'd expect, his bosses want one last mission, and it's not that straightforward. He has to locate and return an Australian agent who has gone missing from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. Mac and a crack team of American Green Berets have to find her - but part of the problem is that nobody knows if she's voluntarily gone missing or has been kidnapped.
GOLDEN SERPENT works probably because there are a lot of different levels for it to work in. Rather than a straight out, untouchable hero type, Mac is a real human being - he panics a bit, he struggles with nausea, he sweats and works up quite a head of steam before and during the action scenes. There are also great touches of dry Aussie humour sprinkled throughout - only one of our action hero's would "backpedal like a politician" when confronted by a brown snake in a ditch, in the middle of the night, in the Australian outback. The other thing that works is the sense of menace that is built up around the "bad guys". The terrorists are pursued, their plots and machinations revealed as the story builds, but in some ways they are sort of veiled, menacing, quietly lurking. It's cleverly done. There is a lot of bang bang shoot 'em up and a lot of charging around, but there is also a willingness for that to sometimes go horribly wrong - which gives the action a harder, slightly more threatening edge.
Sure there's a bit of a sloppy happy ending, but GOLDEN SERPENT roars to that ending with a lot of suspense, some true nail biting moments, some laugh out loud moments and a hefty dose of pure entertainment.
lan McQueen, aka Mac, was once a star of the global intelligence community, renowned for being the Aussie spook who shot and killed Abu Sabaya, the world's most dangerous terrorist. But that was 2002. Now, during a routine assignment in Indonesia, McQueen discovers that Sabaya is not in fact dead. Instead he's teamed up with rogue CIA veteran Peter Garrison and is armed with a cache of stolen VX nerve agent he's threatening to deploy in a dramatic and deadly manner. Battling to stay one step ahead of Sabaya's hit-men, CIA double-agents and deep corruption within Australian intelligence, Mac must find the stolen VX before it's too late. His mission will take him on a chase through South-East Asia and test all of his considerable courage and ingenuity.