Review published on August 4, 2018.
As a former current affairs journalist, I spent the bulk of my career working on documentaries for Channel 4. I primarily worked as a researcher, then assistant producer, on Dispatches – Channel 4’s flagship current affairs strand – employed by various independent television production companies. The world of current affairs television is a relatively small one and the same names and faces tend to crop up all over the place. Some gain stellar reputations, becoming legends in their own right. One such person was James Brabazon. While I never had the honour of working with him myself, he was someone who’s work I was well aware of, so when I discovered that he had written a thriller I was keen to read and review it.
The Break Line follows Max Mclean, a British special forces soldier employed as a deniable asset by MI6 as an assassin. After a botched operation in Caracus, Max is hauled back to London to explain himself. He’s then sent on another mission, to take out the Russian leader of a guerrilla outfit threatening the stability of Sierra Leone. But things aren’t all they seem and right from the start there’s something very odd about this mission.
I have to confess to starting this novel with some trepidation after my initial excitement. I had imagined the author would write a thriller about a journalist or film-maker, when I realised that instead his main character was a special forces soldier, I worried that this would be yet another clone of Andy McNab. Neither, once I started reading, did the first-person narrative gel for me. I don’t have a problem with first-person narrative normally, but for some reason I felt that this would have been better written in third-person. Perhaps, knowing that the author isn’t former military, the first-person narrative just seemed like he was trying too hard. That said, I soon got into the story and left these reservations behind, not least because to his credit the author carves out a different route to that of other stories of this ilk. Rather than a military/espionage thriller the story swiftly becomes a sci-fi/horror tale. I won’t divulge spoilers, but needless to say what’s waiting for Max in the sweltering Sierra Leonean jungle is a lot more sinister than a ragtag guerrilla army.
The author does a great job of cranking up the tension throughout and as he gets nearer to his target there’s a real sense of foreboding in the air. Another reviewer observed that the novel is very filmic and that perhaps this reflects the author’s pedigree. I agree with this and can easily imagine The Break Line being transferred to the silver screen.
The novel reads like the start of a series, certainly I can imagine Max returning in the pages of another title. If he does, it will be interesting to see where the author takes him, does he turn to more traditional military/espionage fare or does he stick to sci-fi/horror storylines?
James Pierson 4/4
The Break Line by James Brabazon
Michael Joseph 9780718186234 hbk Jul 2018
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