The List by Michael Brissenden

Erich Mayer

A novel about a team of counter-terrorist experts desperately trying to prevent a major disaster in Sydney.
The List by Michael Brissenden

Book cover image: The List by Michael Brissenden via hachette Australia.

Set in contemporary Australia, The List is a novel about a team of counter-terrorist experts desperately trying to prevent a major disaster in Sydney.

The opening chapter takes place in Afghanistan and exposes the reader to some of the horrors experienced by those involved in military action in the region. Brissenden has the personal experience and in-depth knowledge to portray a traumatic encounter in the war that motivates both the dreaded Scorpion and those who seek to protect the Australian public from his onslaughts.

A subplot follows the actions of a returned serviceman who has had at least one too many overseas assignments and who despairingly wonders what the point of it all was. First they ‘blew the crap out of the place … then they built schools and hospitals and then they left’, he observes at one point.

This type of interference from foreign powers is hardly new, however. Brissenden reminds the reader, of some pertinent history when a Lebanese woman – a member of the Australian counter-terrorist team – recalls the following:

'The blowback that’s occurring now is a consequence of the carve-up of the Middle East over a hundred years ago by European colonial powers. The people who live here – my family – are living with the historical consequences of actions that took place over a hundred years ago.'

It is this blowback that protagonist Sydney Allen must deal with, as a member of the Australian Federal Police. He leads his team in the hunt for the Scorpion and in the endeavour to prevent a well planned terrorist attack. A veteran of wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Allen is unfaltering in his devotion to the job, but he is also not immune to the odd twinge of conscience about some of the methods employed by his counterterrorism team.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Brian Williams believes his tenuous hold on office can be boosted by being seen to be pro-active on counter-terrorism. Williams is vocal on the subject:

'Many of those who now wish to do us harm have been given a hand by this nation’s open heart. We have given them safety and we have given them our trust. In return they have abused our generosity. It has to stop.'

It is unfortunate that, despite the familiarity of this type of xenophobic fear-mongering, the prime minister is painted as somewhat of a clown and is therefore less than convincing.

Surprisingly, given Brissenden’s journalistic background, one of the less likeable characters in the book is a pushy and untrustworthy journalist. Less surprisingly, one of his characters voices his dislike of ‘those frothing at the mouth, bloviating commercial radio shock jocks Sydney specialised in.'

Brissenden’s descriptions of Sydney, Goulburn and the various other places the characters in this book inhabit are vivid and realistic. On the other hand, his characterisation could use some greater depth. This is not just because most of his non-Muslim characters, including the prime minister, over-use the word ‘fuck’, but because most of his characters tend to sound the same as each other.

Nonetheless, The List is a good read. It is not an anti-Muslim book. It is an action-packed thriller. Its heroes are men and women who face danger to keep the rest of us safe. The book is fiction, but the events described in it could happen tomorrow; the dangerous situations that threaten Australia in the book are frighteningly plausible.

3 stars out of 5

The List 
Michael Brissenden
hachette Australia
PaperbackJUL 25, 2017 | 9780733637421
e-BookJUL 25, 2017 | 9780733637438 
Audio BookJUL 25, 2017 | 9780733637469

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog