“Counterstrike” by Hal G.P. Colebatch is a thriller. Better still, it is a thriller of ideas, which is why I found it so compelling.
The hero is Harry, a lawyer and university lecturer. Pining over a lost love, he sets off with a friend on a yacht to explore nearby islands and do some diving. Along the way they have several encounters that set us up for what is to follow.
Militant Islam is on the march, and it seems a plot is afoot to torpedo the Western alliance. Indeed, American power is already in retreat. The conspirators hope to accelerate this trend. It leads to much debate.
So we read:
“Terrorists can’t win,” someone was saying loudly behind him. “Not as terrorists. Think of the biggest terrorist atrocity you can imagine; say a nuclear explosion in a great city. Say a million or so people were killed in New York. The US still has three hundred million more, their basic military power would be virtually intact, and they’d be aroused, united, and vengeful as never before. That’s why Bin Laden was potentially the best friend and ally the West ever had: he gave a wake-up call, though it was only partially heard.”
“So what do you think a terrorist should do?”
“Change the culture. It’s much less dramatic but it’s much more permanent as well as much more risk-free. And if it’s done cleverly, it doesn’t provoke a reaction until it’s too late. You can’t unite or mobilize against cultural change. You can hardly outlaw it. You can’t even call an enemy an enemy.”
Much of the talk is about the malignant impact of conspiracy theories on our culture, and so we also read:
“There’s a strange syndrome present. Different conspiracy theorists will very often associate with, and reinforce, one another even when they have mutually incompatible beliefs. On the 9/11 conspiracy sites one theorist who claims that a missile was fired into the Pentagon will associate himself with another theorist who claims a remotely controlled plane was crashed into the Pentagon. And how many Islamicists will proclaim simultaneously that 9/11 and the rest were great blows struck for Islam against the West by Bin Laden etc and that they are part of a Jewish plot to discredit Islam and give the US an excuse for invading Iraq and threaten Iran?”
“Yes,” said Liz. Toby added some water to his wine.
“Tens of thousands of people evidently think there’s something in it, ‘if’ – magic phrase – ‘you keep an open mind.’ I’m coming to think the truth is that if you keep an open mind people will throw all their crap in it – and as often as not have you pay them for doing so.”
It is also fascinating to find, in a book published in 2011, an engaging discussion of the phenomenon – which turns out to be not as modern as we might think – of fake news.
Colebatch is an excellent – not to mention prolific – writer (read his Wikipedia bio here). He has won awards for his poetry, and he is also the author of many science fiction novels. Most recently he has won acclaim – and the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Award – for “Australia’s Secret War”, an engrossing account of how trade unions worked to sabotage our troops during World War II.
“Counterstrike” is an absorbing book and an easy read. Though there is probably more talking than action, there is also considerable tension. And a lot of provocative ideas. Highly recommended.
“Counterstrike” can be bought directly from the publisher.