SECOND STRIKE - Mark Abernethy
SECOND STRIKE is the second thriller starring Alan (Mac) McQueen, although this particular book brings the actual action a lot closer to home than the first - GOLDEN SERPENT. Readers who find books set in recent events uncomfortable, may struggle a little as SECOND STRIKE starts off in Bali - in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Kuta that killed over 200 people in 2002. Mac is called in to help the investigation teams, joining the elite unit of spies and soldiers tasked with hunting down the terrorists implicated. Despite a hot pursuit, the terrorist ringleaders avoid capture.
Five years later, Mac is back in Indonesia, still involved in espionage but this time in something a little less physical, when bullets start to fly and it seems the old foes have returned. Mac finds himself compelled once again into the role of lone hand as he struggles to stop whatever the ringleaders are up to this time, and deal with the complacency and traitors in his own ranks.
SECOND STRIKE is every bit as action packed as GOLDEN SERPENT. In fact the action rarely lets up, although there are some "quieter" times thoughout the book mostly with brief interludes into Mac's happy, almost idyllic personal life. Of course this is a thriller though, so there's an ever present sense of menace even in the personal life as Mac's wife continues her own job which produces its own threats, over and above anything that Mac might drop the family into.
As confrontational as the starting point of the Bali bombings may be to some, they, and the very Australian stylings of the main characters in this book provide an interesting local sensibility for SECOND STRIKE. Right down to the ultimate threat at the end of this book, there's no doubt that the central characters in this book are local, that the threat is to Australia and the region in which we all exist and the reaction is also rather Australian. Sure it's a bit over the top, Mac is one of the original energiser bunny types with seemingly unending energy, the ability to continue no matter how much physical damage he suffers during the battle, and possessed of an almost super-natural ability to see the plot when all about him are oblivious.
For a long time now, military, spy, intelligence thriller readers in these parts have had to feed their addiction with a hefty dose of English and American writers. Abernethy has written two books now that take that concept and dress it nicely with a great Australian sense of dry wit and irreverence.
Perhaps it's just my somewhat shaky understanding of things technical, but there are a few occurrences which didn't quite make sense (how can they block radio and mobile signals and still have working police radios?). There is a tad too much of the idyllic personal towards the climax of the book which might have been designed to increase the sense of what could be lost, but all it did for me was destroy a lot of the pace. Particularly frustrating as what was about to come wasn't that hard to pick and I just wanted to get back "into it!". Minor quibbles in what is, for the most part, one of those great escapist, fantastic thriller rides where the baddies are particularly dreadful and the goodies slightly flawed and the world is saved from the unthinkable ... just.
In the early hours of October 13, 2002, Australian spy Alan McQueen is jolted awake and told to immediately head to Bali, where more than two hundred people have been killed in a series of bomb blasts.
Descending into Denpasar, Mac finds tensions running high between MI6, ASIS and the CIA, not to mention the Indonesian national police and Indonesian intel. Assigned to keep watch on the Australian forensic scientists working the bomb site - where the official line being peddled is that all the bombs were home-made - Mac learns that in fact one of the bombs was a military-grade mini-nuke.
Trying to glean the motives for misleading the public, Mac pursues a shady group of businessmen-terrorists through the wilds of west Java and into Sumatra. But the trail goes dead when the terrorists fly out of Sumatra in an unmarked plane.
Five years later, Mac is a freelance investigator living in Surfers Paradise, with his wife, Jenny, and baby daughter. During an apparently routine assignment looking into the people behind an Indonesian bio-engineering facility, Mac's partner is shot and MI6 turn up rather too quickly. Before too long Mac finds himself embroiled in the dangerous world of a new nuclear arms race.
Forced on the run, with no Commonwealth back up, Mac suspects a connection between what's going on and the 2002 Bali bombings. Remembering back to a puzzling note he found back then with M4' written on it, he suddenly realises it referred to Mantiqui Four, the legendary Fourth Brigade of Jemaah Islamyiah, who are dedicated to an attack on Australian soil.
The race is on as Mac discovers that the Fourth Brigade still have one remaining mini-nuke device. With ever-increasing tension, he trails his quarry from Indonesia to the Australian outback. In a thrilling denouement, involving three SAS troopers, several Israelis, the Indonesian police, and a Pakistani, Mac finds faced with more questions than answers
In this action-packed and gripping sequel to Golden Serpent Mark Abernethy confirms his status as a master thriller writer.