Thursday, June 30, 2016
Review: THE MARK OF HALAM
Reviewed by Karen Chisholm
USS Ulysses: State-of-the-art nuclear submarine. Deterrent. Target. When an Olympic medalist is the subject of an attempted assassination, former SAS trooper Jeff Bradley knows his past is once again casting a shadow over his new life. A note left by the assassin confirms his suspicions: Bradley made an enemy back in Kosovo, and the man is out for revenge. But Jeff knows the killer is not working alone: higher up the ranks sits Avni Leka, a terrorist warlord who will stop at nothing to achieve his bloody goal.
And it’s not just Bradley who is under threat. A hijacking leads him to sense something bigger is being planned—a plot that, if successful, will end thousands of innocent lives, and could light the touchpaper of global conflict.
The second Jeff Bradley novel from New Zealand author, Thomas Ryan, certainly made me really want to shunt my as yet unread copy of the first (The Field of Blackbirds) up in priority.
A thriller in construction, THE MARK OF HALAM is fast-paced, big-threat, enemies on all sides, one man to save the day in style. It helps that Jeff Bradley is a reluctant sort of a hero, dragged into the conflict initially when a good friend is threatened, and ultimately because there is a terrorist plot, and then there's something much more personal.
Setting THE MARK OF HALAM mostly in New Zealand, against the backdrop of that country's long-term anti-nuclear stance, making the terrorist target a nuclear powered submarine is an interesting undertaking. As with all thrillers of this nature there are aspects to the plot that you're just going to have to go with - a target like that staying put when the threat is so profound, the way that the defences are laid out, probably even some of the technical details which would pass most readers by completely. What matters here is that there are those few minor "moments" throughout, and none of them really threaten to drop the reader out of the storyline. Once invested, you are very much with Bradley until the end, come what may.
Given that this is a second novel in a series, not having read the first one yet didn't have any impact. Bradley's background and his personality are quickly understood. His role as all action hero nuanced enough to provide reasons for what he's doing regardless of whether or not the personal threat is something that is or isn't explored in the earlier book (no idea if that is the case as yet).
With a reasonable supporting cast, and a really good central hero figure, THE MARK OF HALAM is classic big threat / big risk action thriller. The setting of the harbour, the political background and even the inclusion of a winery, created a good sense of place, time and society in which to act out all of the elements of the story. All of which definitely means the first book needs to be read as soon as possible.
Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and the Ned Kelly Awards. She kindly shares and co-publishes her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction.