Swyft so­lu­tion to a clash of su­per­pow­ers

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

Pre­science is one of the most im­por­tant at­tributes of the thriller writer: the abil­ity to read to­day’s head­lines and pro­ject them into to­mor­row’s re­al­is­tic sce­nario. John M. Green’s lat­est novel marks him as a mas­ter of this craft.

Syd­ney-based Green is a for­mer in­vest­ment banker who is still ac­tive in the cor­po­rate world. His record of fic­tion­al­is­ing global events that could hap­pen, but haven’t yet, is re­mark­able.

His first novel, Nowhere Man (2010), iden­ti­fied as­pects of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis that are just be­gin­ning to be­come a re­al­ity. His fol­lowup, Born to Run (2011), in­tro­duced us to Is­abel Diaz, a Hil­lary Clin­ton char­ac­ter who be­comes the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the US. The Trusted (2013) cen­tred on global ter­ror­ism con­ducted by mil­i­tant en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.

His new novel, The Tao De­cep­tion, sees a re­turn from The Trusted of Dr Tori Swyft, a formi- dable Aus­tralian ex-spy turned cor­po­rate deal­maker. It is a work of power and in­trigue that should be re­quired read­ing for ev­ery politi­cian.

As with Green’s pre­vi­ous novels, this is a fast-paced work full of larger-than-life char­ac­ters and cliffhang­ing sce­nar­ios. Its tempo al­most war­rants a med­i­cal warn­ing for peo­ple with breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

But more than the vi­brancy of the writ­ing and the bravado of the char­ac­ters, the sce­nar­ios Green cre­ates are ter­ri­fy­ingly re­al­is­tic. The book be­gins with a toxic spray, from a drone, into the bed­room of the sleep­ing pope. Sud­denly ev­ery global leader is in dan­ger of as­sas­si­na­tion. A band of Chi­nese Uighurs claims re­spon­si­bil­ity, and overnight the world is on a knife-edge of su­per­power con­fronta­tion.

And on an is­land that bor­ders China and North Korea, a se­cret in­stal­la­tion is be­ing built and an op­er­a­tion about to be launched that will de­stroy the power, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and in­fra­struc­ture net­works of the US and send its pop­u­la­tion back to pre-in­dus­trial times.

Us­ing his ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of fi­nance, gained in his pre­vi­ous pro­fes­sions as cor­po­rate lawyer and in­vest­ment banker, Green crafts an ex­tra­or­di­nary yet per­fectly plau­si­ble sce­nario in which, us­ing the Her­mit King­dom as a scape­goat, a ca­bal of China’s rul­ing elite plans to cre­ate a new na­tion based on tra­di­tional iso­la­tion­ist prin­ci­ples.

En­ter Dr Swyft, sexy, po­tent and brave, who has been called in as a nurse­maid for a mas­sive cor­po­rate merger be­tween two gi­ant global cor­po­ra­tions. But the deeper she and her col­league in­volve them­selves in the his­tory of the com­pa­nies, the more she re­alises the merger is an elab­o­rate sham, part of a con­spir­acy by a break­away seg­ment of the Chi­nese lead­er­ship to oblit­er­ate the US.

In a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, writ­ers such as Ian Flem­ing, Lee Child and James Pat­ter­son held their read­ers spell­bound with their spies, vil­lains and he­roes. Re­cently, writ­ers, per­haps in­tim­i­dated by Hol­ly­wood and ca­ble tele­vi­sion, have been forced to cater to a more savvy gen­er­a­tion of read­ers by in­tro­duc­ing cy­berspace tech­nol­ogy to re­place spies and sleuths.

Which makes char­ac­ters like Swyft so ap­peal­ing. Aca­demic, knowl­edge­able, brave and gor­geous, this ex-CIA spook is a blend­ing of Lu­crezia Bor­gia and Elle Macpher­son, with bits of

John M. Green

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