A beautiful-yet-deadly commander of a crack retrieval team; terrorists of US, European, Arabic and Asian strains; high-tech comms systems implanted into earlobes; assault helicopters; conspiracies; multiple explosions … Add a frank delight in the genre and you have Lindy Cameron’s page-turner Redback.
The hi-tech adventure thriller has traditionally been a male domain (think Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, James W Huston, Matthew Reilly, John Birmingham and many others). With Redback Lindy Cameron takes the genre and gives it a good shake, creating a team of savvy fighters based in Australia and led by the incomparable Bryn Gideon — part Xena, part Captain Kirk.
Cameron writes with infectious energy and does great action scenes (not to mention explosions). The intrigue has the requisite complexity, as does the plot, which, true to the genre, contains multiple strands and crosses the globe.
The story opens in London with the assassination of Lord James McQuade, who has just enjoyed himself with a young lady. The assassin ‘loved what he did and he did it with honour’, and so allows his target to put his trousers on before ending his life. The novel then picks up the story of Scott Dreher, an internationally recognised journalist investigating how governments use computer war games as recruiting tools. In the course of his investigations, Scott has discovered a disturbing permutation of the popular GlobalWarTek game. He visits Tokyo to interview the inventor of the game, only to discover that the inventor has just been murdered.
On the island of Laui in the South Pacific, Dr Jana Rossi, chair of the Pacific Tourism and Enviro-Trade Conference, along with her fellow conference delegates, is being held captive by rebels. A covert Australian retrieval team, the Redbacks, led by the impossibly beautiful, impossibly efficient Bryn Gideon, busts the delegates out to safety, just ahead of a botched US Navy SEAL operation.
In Pakistan, two Australian operatives try to contain the local CIA agent while keeping tabs on who meets whom in a particular tea-shop. In France, an infatuated teenager makes a fatal mistake in the name of love. And down in Texas, things get very dangerous indeed.
These disparate elements are woven together as the story unfolds, and not all of its elements are fiction: there are over 40 terrorist groups proscribed in the UK; the US military does use war games as a recruitment tool for the Army; and there really are Apache Longbow assault helicopters.
But Cameron also wants to have fun: this is a world where the President of the United States can ask himself, ‘Has everyone gone doo-lally?’ Australian pollies don’t get off lightly either. There are some Yes Minister-style moments such as this one between the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs (who has an ambition to become Prime Minister) and his staffer, Mick:
‘… apart from you, Mick … who does know about this retrieval?’
‘Technically? The PM.’
‘So Robert okayed it?’
Nor is Cameron coy about the coincidences required in novels of this kind when she has Jana ask:
‘Bryn, do you have any idea of how unbelievably coincidental it is that Alan and his contact, and you and your Redbacks are all here in Chiang Mai at the same time as me and the mystery soldier?’
This is a writer who loves genre, and there are references to James Bond and Get Smart, and even Jana Rossi, ‘trade negotiator of international renown’, at one point makes ‘a Vulcan gesture’.
Suffusing the novel too is a distinctly Australian flavour: in the immediate aftermath of a bombing in Peshawar, an Australian operative ‘dropped to his hands and toes and goanna-sprinted across a ridge’; and when the Foreign Minister visits his wounded boss in hospital, he tells him:
‘… while we all know you’ve got the intestinal fortitude of a Mallee bull, the world will not actually end if you’re not fit enough to line dance with the other world leaders on Sunday night.’
Originally published in 2007, there are echoes of George W Bush’s ‘man of steel’ praise for John W Howard when the novel’s US President Garner Brock endorses the Australian prime minister:
‘Don’t you worry about [PM] Bob Harvey, he’s made of Teflon,’ the President declared, and then frowned. ‘Or, Kevlar. And the man’s got balls.’
And when a Cabinet Minister comes to a bad end, there are a multitude of suspects:
‘… a lot of people might have it in for Barney. Like sick ones from when he was Health Minister, and half the workforce from when he was Industrial Relations Minister, and all those non-Australian asylum seekers and their un-Australian pinko sympathisers from when he was in Immigration.’
In 2010 Cameron reissued the book through her own publishing house, Clan Destine Press, a venture that must be praised not only for the crazy-brave endeavour of small press publishing, but for having a list that includes, alongside ‘crime’, ‘historical’, and ‘speculative fiction’, the publishing category ‘cats’.
Redback leaves the door open for sequels, so stay tuned for more from Jana, Bryn and the ever-resourceful Redbacks. It won’t be dull.
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