Monday, September 5, 2016


THE ALO RELEASE by Geoffrey Robert (2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Nine days before the global release of a genetically modified seed coating set to make starvation history, the IT advisor for an environmental group receives a cryptic email from an old friend working for the seed corporation. The email triggers a frantic manhunt from the glass towers of Los Angeles to the towering rainforests of New Zealand as the corporation’s security chief tries to track down and silence the English IT advisor and his colleagues ...

This debut eco-thriller from a Kiwi journalist based in Southeast Asia is an engaging, helter-skelter tale that raises some thought-provoking concerns about how media coverage of 'big issues' can be massaged by businesses, governments, and interest groups.

Robert does a good job setting an early hook, with a whistleblower reaching out to an old acquaintance, with deadly consequences. The stakes are very high, with a big-money launch of a new 'wonder' seed on the near horizon. A lot of powerful people have an interest in the seed release going well, for a variety of reasons, so the idea that secret information has escaped the company's clutches sets alarm bells ringing. Discreetly, behind closed doors. The end is seen as so important that the company's trouble-shooter has no compunction using any means necessary, and easily getting the buy-in of various authorities as he hunts his prey.

There's an awful lot to like about this eco-thriller. In particular, Roberts creates a real narrative momentum, a propulsive drive to the story, and does a very good job with characterisation and setting. The players, across the spectrum from heroes to villains, have some nice depth and we understand why they see things the way they do. In such a high stakes, big threat thrillers, it's easy for characters to become moving pieces, even caricatures, there to just serve the high concept plotline. But Roberts gives readers a little more, with some nuance and a few shades of grey.

Understandably, being a debut, there are some areas that Roberts could look to improve in his future novels. The dialogue veers into info-dump and on-the-nose territory at times, with characters laying things out a little too obviously, or in ways that seem more designed to convey things to the readers rather than being natural or subtextual. The storyline has a lot of exciting incidents, and plenty happens to keep reader interest, but at times it seems a little linear; one then another then another.

Robert does a nice job with the New Zealand setting, taking readers into some smaller towns and rural/wilderness areas, not just cities. That strong sense of the environment plays well in what is a thriller centred on humanity's at-times complicated relationship with the environment. Robert creates some adrenalin-packed moments, but also pricks readers minds, raising questions about the ways in which groups, powerful and impassioned, interact with authorities, the public, and the media.

Overall, I found THE ALO RELEASE to be a good read that shows Robert has plenty of promise as a thriller writer. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Craig Sisterson writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 150 crime writers, discussed crime writing at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, and on national radio, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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