Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021
The latest offering from prolific and highly successful author Roland Perry is a boys’ own, ripping suspense thriller. It’s full of spies and skullduggery, power, greed, money, murder and mayhem.
It’s quite a masculine work; the five main characters are men and the women in the story do play a rather secondary role. This is not to imply that women will not enjoy this book – after all, who doesn’t love a spy thriller with a hero (Victor Cavalier) who looks like Michael Caine and who can dispense villains three at a time thanks to his cunning, physical prowess, intelligence and hefty weaponry?
Amidst the derring-do, however, there is a story about environmentalism and about the forces of government and commerce and their capacity to stifle the development of new greener energy sources – with money or threats of violence or indeed actual violence. In these struggles the wealthy and powerful commercial interests are ranked against the secret security forces of the UK, the US, Russia, China and Australia – and our heroes.
Our protagonists run the gauntlet in several key locations including Tasmania, Thailand, London, the US, Russia and Germany. The author’s familiarity with these places adds to the verisimilitude of a story that smudges between fact and fiction throughout – and it matters not a jot which bits are true and which imaginary. The story carries us along and it is easy to accept it as a work of escapist literature as we do with other major crime and spy writers whose work comes from life experience and/or intensive research.
The other interesting strand to this story is the spiritual figure for whom it is named – Al Haut, a religious leader, inventor and descendant of Truganini – and a real person. His interactions with the spy hero Cavalier stem from his intervention when Cavalier’s daughter was in hospital after a life-threatening motor bike accident where it seems the intervention of Al Haut’s prayer brought her back from the brink. Their activities for the rest of the novel are much more to do with fending off the attacks of the villains, but the spiritual aspect is never far away.
The development of layered characters is a penchant of this author and so, while we are hurtling through the many death-defying feats of our main characters, we are also given glimpses into the personal challenges of such an existence.
It is apposite therefore that the story ends with a reference to scientific invention and its potential benefits for humankind in the climate crisis context, one of the main motivating forces for Al Haut – a highly contemporary focus. A reference to Corona Virus and its attendant world-wide shutdowns also attests to the currency of the novel.
Roland Perry is a skilled storyteller with a great capacity for bringing the reader along with his book people and their exploits. His extensive knowledge of his subject matter is always evident as is his intellectual and emotional investment in the themes and story lines of his works. His humour is also a constant, which bubbles just below the surface of the seriousness of his stories, and which allows a wry smile from the canny reader. Like real life, this fiction world is never all gloom and doom.
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the review copy and to DMCPR for facilitating the interview with Roland, always great fun and highly edifying.