Review: The List by Michael Brissenden

9780733637421Michael Brissenden’s debut novel, The List, has all the elements of a rollicking thriller: a diabolical threat, political intrigue, set locally in Sydney. It sits somewhere between a Harry Bosch mystery and a Tom Clancy technothriller, but unfortunately, the sum of its parts doesn’t equate to greatness. The List nails the raw pace required of a thriller, but it lacks the high-octane theatrics that elevated the best of Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum, and lacks the serpentine plot of an A-list crime novel. The novel’s characters and locales lack colour and life, and the telling details that are the hallmarks of the genre’s greats. It’s an effective page-turner, but not propulsive. It’s a little too beholden to the books that’ve come before it, not quite doing enough to stand out from the crowd.

Sidney Allen is part of the Australian Federal Police’s K block, tasked with doing whatever it takes to stop terrorist attacks on home soil. When young Muslim men on the Terror Watchlist start turning up dead, Allen and his partner, Haifa Hourani, are assigned to the case. As they dig deeper, they uncover an incredible terrorist plot that would decimate Sydney. It’s Bosch meets 24 as they race against time to stop the impending attack.

Neither Allen or Hourani are convincing protagonists. Though we are assured they are skilled investigators – the best of the best – we never actually get to witness their genius or aptitude in action. Events happen around them, or to them, with great regularity, but they never seem to chart their own course. Their backgrounds are passé; the love of Allen’s life was murdered by the terrorist operating under the pseudonym ‘the Scorpion,’ so obviously he’s fuelled by a lust for revenge; and Hourani struggle between her Muslim faith and her desire to protect others from its extremist would be fine, if only her elucidation of that fact didn’t feel like the author standing on his soapbox.

It is absolutely correct that authors provide a fair and balanced portrayal of Muslims in their fiction. Readers are smarter and more widely-read than ever; we expect, and deserve, more than cookie-cutter ‘extremist Muslim’ villains chased by Caucasian white men. I applaud Michael Brissenden for touching on relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia, exploring how Islamic ways can align with Australian norms, and demonstrating ISIS’ mastery at messaging and manipulation. But too often these passages – whether they’re internal monologues or dialogue between characters – read like the author’s rhetoric; like chunks of an essay. There is nothing subtle or nuanced about these passages; the message belongs, but it’s delivery is clunky. It weakens the overall narrative, and slows down the pacing.

The List is a passably entertaining thriller with very few surprises. If Brissenden can iron out some of his debut’s kinks, and focus more on the action, his sophomore effort might be something to behold. As it stands, The List is a perfunctory thriller that’ll be lapped up by the genre’s acolytes. Brisk and easy, it’ll suffice for your next long-haul flight.

ISBN: 9780733637421
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 25-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: Australia