State of Fear, Tim Ayliffe

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Remember the good old days of thriller fiction, with bad guys that were easy to pick and the good guys plentiful on the ground. Even the lone wolf types seem to inhabit a lot of corners, on a lot of dark streets, in a lot of mean places. Nowadays thriller fiction is reflecting the current day reality of terrorism, in particular political terrorism, in that the people committing the offences are often misguided, radicalised young people; the real bad guys are lurking presences in the background; and the good guys are seemingly under-equipped for the role of lone wolf, single saviour of the world.

Certainly John Bailey is not the typical world saviour type. A journalist who was captured, tortured and nearly killed 10 years ago in Fallujah by the number one entry on the FBI's Most Wanted list, terrorist Mustafa al-Baghdadi, he's battling the demons of his time in captivity, a drinking problem, and a changing newspaper landscape. It's probably worth noting here that there is an earlier book in this series, published in 2018, THE GREATER GOOD, and whilst it's easy to get with the main story line in this outing without the back story, I've a sneaking suspicion it would have been better to read the earlier novel first. Certainly in terms of John Bailey's personal life which seemed nearly as compromised as his professional one.

Things rapidly escalate in STATE OF FEAR from an horrific bombing in London, at the door of the venue that Bailey is speaking at, switching focus quickly back to Sydney and the missing young son of a man who helped Bailey all those years ago in Fallujah. You'll need to pay close attention here as a lot of people get introduced into the mix quite quickly, and it soon becomes apparent that there's major attacks brewing - and there's something very personal in al-Baghdadi's targeting.

The plot expands at break-neck pace in STATE OF FEAR, and Bailey soon endures enough physical and psychological hits to make a normal person curl up in a corner and take a break. But Bailey's not that sort of a person, and the mere fact that these attacks, and the threat is coming from a man who he has such a difficult experience of, makes it personal, even before the threat becomes explicitly personal. He's not completely on his own in the pursuit though, and there are allies, friends, associates and people from the security services that are willing to help, if they can keep up that is.

Needless to say, extreme political terror thriller territory, with an energiser bunny type central character who gets knocked down, and gets up again more times than you can keep count of. The scenario here is frighteningly realistic, possibly as this author knows his subject matter from a journalistic viewpoint as well. At the time of writing Tim Ayliffe was the Managing Editor of television and video at the ABC, with a background in journalism, and he's obviously well aware of the way the news cycle operates around terrorism threats, the way that acts of terrorism are planned, and undertaken, and the political background to most of them. Needless to say we're talking Islamic extremists here, and whilst it's possible to think that's been done before, it's a bit like the good old days of Cold War spy thrillers where the good and bad sides were pretty well formulaic and the activities remarkably similar.

STATE OF FEAR does bring some different elements to the storyline however, with PTSD, the close relationships forged with allies and saviours, and the complications that extreme trauma has when victims try to return to "normal" life. Those messages are deftly wrapped up in a fast moving plot, with heaps of action and a lot of tension. Definitely one for fans of the political thrillers that explore very topical subject matter.

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Catching the world's most wanted terrorist was supposed to be someone else's job...

John Bailey has a history of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The former war correspondent has been kidnapped and tortured – twice. Finally he’s living something that resembles a normal life. But all that changes when a terrorist murders a woman in front of Bailey in London.

The mastermind behind the attack is Mustafa al-Baghdadi – No.1 on the FBI’s most wanted list – and the man who tortured Bailey in Fallujah a decade ago.

Mustafa has a deadly axe to grind with Bailey. He taunts him with threats of more attacks in other cities, closer to home. Back in Sydney, the people who matter most to Bailey have become targets.

Bailey turns to the only man who can help – ruthless CIA veteran Ronnie Johnson – to bring down the world’s most deadly terrorist.

Review State of Fear, Tim Ayliffe
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, October 3, 2019

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