steve p vincent, state of emergency

Well, I’m exhausted. I was all, “You know, I guess I’ll read a little bit more of the new Steve P Vincent. And a little more.” *gets popcorn* “Well, I can’t stop now.” *gets wine* “Well, I may as well finish it.” *tablet runs out of battery* “It’s fine, I’ll just read it right next to the wall while it charges.” Upshot is, it’s late, I’m a bit drunk, and I’ve just finished State of Emergency and definitely need a lie down afterwards.

In the first Jack Emery book, Australian reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Emery managed to save the world from a war between China and the USA, in a way that was both action-movie excellent-ridiculous and also kind of realistic, because Vincent has studied political science while I have studied Dwayne Johnson movies for all of my knowledge. This, the second Emery book, is just as gleeful to read—Vincent is more than happy to turn society completely upside down and create a boisterous new world order. A lot of crime thrillers play under the radar in a way that makes you imagine it could all be happening right now, while Vincent’s version of the world is absolutely not happening right now, but ever so alarmingly convincing that it could. And this escalation of reality is totally liberating to read, and super fun.

The USA has been under siege by a series of disastrous terrorist attacks when Richard Hall, the man in charge of FEMA, the States’ emergency resources arm, convinces the president to call a state of emergency and hand over leadership of much of the country to him. Hall is a man who thinks the only way to a Good America is through tight restrictions—curfew, food limits, state guard everywhere—and when the Americans push back, all hell breaks loose. It’s a cacophony of voices, from Emery, who’s mostly trying to stay out of trouble after book one left him emotionally bereft; to Celeste, who conjures such conflicting emotions in Emery that he chose reporting in Syria over trying to deal with his feels; to Sergeant Callum Watkins of the state guard, who is our eyes at the ground level as people begin with hope in Hall’s path and then slowly realise that life is not the same; to the underground resistance that is trying to pursue Jack for his contacts, reach and fame. (He’s won a second Pulitzer inbetween books one and two. Yes, I’m jealous, what of it?)

This is deliriously fast-paced, bloody and unflinching. In a Jack Emery book you can never be assured of the survival of anyone he knows; Vincent doesn’t pull punches with good guys dying, bravely or not. Plans go wrong. Heroes are outnumbered. Bad guys are smug. But Emery never backs down.

From the beginning I was pleased with the number of women populating the book, in high positions (including President of the United States) and everywhere else. They were all over the place, just being normal people, and it’s absolutely refreshing. When you’re a lady sometimes reading a more action-oriented book, you realise women are mostly eye candy, all described only as megababes who are only described according to their level of sexiness. Or there are so few of them that the entirety of the female race seems distilled into one character, who could be beautiful or hideous or a villain. If you have enough women in a book, they just become people. Some are lovely. Some are assholes. It’s like that’s the real world or something, who knows? There is a sprinkling of sexual assault, however, be warned. One other thing: it’s also nice to see America get saved by a non-American. We’ve all watched enough movies where Tom Cruise single-handedly saves Japan while the audience groans to be pleased when America needs help.

In conclusion: don’t start reading it at 9pm unless you have the next day off.

steve p vincent, the foundation

Politics is not my forte, let’s just get that clear. In a perfect world, I would be King of Everywhere, using popcorn for currency instead of money and getting asylum seekers out of prison while filling the now-empty cells with people who are jerks to shop assistants. I guess I’ve worried that political thrillers could overwhelm me with smart-talking about Congress/Parliament etc, especially when someone with an actual degree in Political Science (i.e. Steve P Vincent) is the author. But lo! It turns out it’s possible to know your shit and not baffle idiot readers who can’t tell their Abbotts from their Costellos (yes, you can use that joke back in 2007 if you’d like), and craft a roaring political thriller that is unnerving in its description of how the world would go to war.

Jack Emery is a journalist who wakes at the start of the book with a hefty hangover and more than a little bitterness over his soon-to-be-ex-wife and her usurping of his job. When Jack finally gets himself up (as he lay on the ground feeling poorly, I did enjoy the line: “His voice was raspy, and he considered calling for a crime scene unit to stencil some chalk around him, haul him off and call it even”) and stumbles into work, Erin gets the job he desperately wants: a gig in China to cover the World Trade Organization Conference in Shanghai. Jack couldn’t be more enraged or freshly inebriated until word comes out that Shanghai has been the centre of a terrorist attack—and that the wife he just served divorce papers in a petulant tantrum was at ground zero. From there, he finds himself tangled in a vast political web that sends him to an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, a Chinese prison, and into the path of the world’s most dangerous woman. Michelle Dominique is a true villain: member of far-right-wing “political group” (read: batshit crazy assassins) The Foundation for a New America, crafter of a nefarious plan to grab hold of one of the world’s most read media outlets, mastermind behind catastrophic terrorist attacks, happy to stick a pen in someone’s eye, and—oh crap—running for Congress.

Almost every scene drips (or explodes) with tension. It’s the type of ebook that could almost do with being viewed in a popcorn-scented cinema for reading instead of on your iPad on the tram—it’s far too thrilling for public transport, but then, at least it’d wake you up on your commute home from work. From Michelle manipulating everyone and everything with an expert touch; to Chen, the double-crossed bomber who bombed his own country to seek vengeance against family wrongs; to absolutely-not-Rupert-Murdoch newspaper mogul Ernest McDowell, fresh off the back of some hacking accusations and a ripe target; to Jack Emery, a man who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time—this book is ripe with characters you’ll hate, or love to hate, or be surprised by your swinging emotions towards. Who expected to feel bad for McDowell’s broken heart? Not me, but then I’m always a sucker for sad people in books. Even worse is when I dropped the ball on hating Chen—a terrorist!—because he loves his wife and kids. Authors just have no qualms in toying with readers’ emotions, do they? Jeez.

There is not much of Jack’s background on display here, apart from that he’s Australian-born, and that he’s won a Pulitzer for his work in Afghanistan – but as an everyday-type protagonist (I mean, who doesn’t have a Pulitzer! I use mine for doorstops) he doesn’t need an extensive backstory to explain his motivations. You’re on his side as he does his job, tries to help out his country, and suffers unspeakable torture without bravely throwing quips around like James Bond.

Handily, there are some light moments—Jack is exactly the type of smartass I enjoy in thrillers, and everyone who ends up in a dramatic office meeting hates on modern furnishings (“Ernest wondered how many of his tax dollars were paying for the office of Senator Patrick Mahoney, Democrat for Massachusetts. The office looked as if it had been painted by a drunk spinning around on a chair and then furnished by a child.”) But, mostly, The Foundation really is intense. In case you’ve ever wondered what World War Three beginning would be like, you couldn’t really hope for more visceral terror than Emery listening to it start via radio in a helicopter out in the sea in the middle of a war between China and the United States. Missiles fly around him as their craft tries to make it to a US ship in the middle of the South China sea, and I was almost in a panic myself about it. The politics themselves feel legitimate: China vs USA isn’t immediately fuelled by nuclear bombs, but a strengthening of defences, attempts at peace, and countries scrambling to pick a side in a superpower head-on collision.

I almost wrote “this is an explosive political thriller” but surely that’s on every blurb, right? This is a jet-setting, alarming, bang-pow-kaboom read full of metaphorical and literal bloodshed, political machinations you’ll hope desperately will never become reality, and late-night giant-popcorn-wielding funsies. The Foundation is solid. You can use that joke too. Sorry.

The Foundation is available here from today!

election special guest post review: peter cotton, dead cat bounce

by Stephanie Lai

There is an election this Saturday! I know right, who knew? So it is an especially timely moment to review Dead Cat Bounce, Peter Cotton’s July release.

Three weeks before a federal election, the Minister for the Environment goes missing and is later found asphyxiated on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. This understandably high profile event is followed by Detective Darren Glass, and intercut with media bites from reporters Jean Acheson and Simon Rolfe. This serves to weave the secrecy of politics and police work with the immediacy of today’s media, with varying effect, though certainly you feel the frustration of police and pollies as the media release more and more secret information.

There is a sense of immediacy in Dead Cat Bounce, but no real sense of high stakes, despite having read this with our own looming election just over the horizon. It’s an easy, fast read, and despite containing multiple murders and kidnappings and the potential for nail bombs, it’s not a nail biting oh-god-the-fear kind of crime book (which is good! I like crime books, but I don’t like to be checking under the bed).

There’s a casual sense of irony and ridiculousness through the book, which I appreciated. The Commissioner for PNG Constabulary offers assistance to the AFP, and the media is keeping secrets that lead to all sorts of shenanigans. And Glass, the POV character, is a copper who gets the job done but mostly by accident.

Read this if you enjoy trying to decide which fictional character is which real life Australian politician or media personality, and a soft easy read before election day.


Stephanie Lai has written and published queer intersectional steampunk and non-fiction about ethnicity and movements for social change. She is currently writing a book about Chinese environmental politics and the time she spent there. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she rides her bike in inappropriate places and trains people to survive our upcoming climate change future. She works to ruin everything you love. You can find her writing about media, feminism, social justice and drop bears on the intersectional blog No Award, and about veganism, intersectionality and delicious food at Vegan About Town.