Saturday, November 28, 2015


FIELD OF BLACKBIRDS by Thomas Ryan  (Thomas & Mercer, May 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A surprising debut delivering an enjoyable, action-packed read with modern-day echoes of Tom Clancy or Alistair MacLean. 

Back when I was an adolescent, I loved to read Alistair MacLean novels. They were packed with adventure, international intrigue, interesting characters, and some mystery. To me, MacLean’s novels were captivating stories that were just flat-out enjoyable to read. Later I read Tom Clancy, who had some of the same elements, only with more convoluted multi-strand scenarios and far more technical detail.

So why am I reminiscing about library loves from twenty plus years ago, as I start a review of the debut release from a new Kiwi author?

Because in a strange way reading Thomas Ryan’s FIELD OF BLACKBIRDS pleasantly reminded me of those MacLean tales. Ryan’s first thriller is just a flat-out enjoyable read, with good characters that draw you in more and more as the story unfolds, plenty of action and intrigue to keep the pulse up and mind racing, all happening in an exotic locale where the lines between ‘good guys and bad guys’ can get pretty blurred.

Arben Shala, a vineyard manager in New Zealand, disappears while visiting his native Kosovo on a business trip. His boss, former special forces soldier Jeff Bradley, is concerned, particularly given an enigmatic message that could mean his good friend Arben is in grave danger. Bradley thought war zones were part of his old life, not his current one, but he travels to war-torn Kosovo to try to find Arben.

He finds an opaque world where the officials he asks for help might be more crooked than the criminals. Teaming up with some international aid workers and UN peacekeepers, Bradley navigates the dangerous landscape where conspiracy and treachery are everyday occurrences, and the disappearance of a vineyard manager might be just the tiniest tip of a far more sinister and dangerous iceberg.

Thomas Ryan does a good job of crafting the world of his story, and drawing the reader in. I found myself initially intrigued, then enjoying the read more and more as it went on. There are some nice twists, and plenty of interesting characters, heroes and villains, locals and visitors to Kosovo alike. I also really liked how Ryan - himself a veteran of war zones - brought Kosovo to life: it's history, people, geography. It felt like a complete canvas, a good backdrop to Ryan's well-told thriller tale.

A very solid debut that's an enjoyable and intriguing read, and left me wanting more from both this author and his main characters. Recommended.

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