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Source: Delivery | The Daily Post
In 2011, before meeting up with Josh Wineera for the Irregular Warfare Summit in DC, I was working with the USAF’s Building Partnerships Team (nee Centre for Irregular Warfare) at Nellis AFB. That’s where I met John Mangan and how I got my fingerprints on this, his first novel.
Living rurally, we doing a lot of shopping online. We’ll support locally as best we can but often, greater selection and better cost win out. Online tracking means that we usually have a fair idea when a delivery is due to hit the main box so surprises are rare but nice.
Such was the case when I found this brown USPS envelope in the mailbox…rather heavy and suspiciously anonymous…I had forgotten that John had said he would send an advance copy down-under…
John asked for a hand with the Kiwi characters in his story – they appear late in the story but play key roles. Over the next six years, John and I played a game of cultural 20 Questions, the answers to which may provide background for his next novel(s). My part in the production was minor albeit over a period of years and unlikely to colour my thoughts one way or another (if anything, I am probably more likely to hold it to a higher standard because I have been involved in its development).
Bottom line up front: I liked Into a Dark Frontier. It’s a good contemporary tale; the characters are credible and well-developed and the story flows smoothly between chapters: it’s a good read in its own right. Set in an Africa not too long from now, the environment feels gritty, dirty and real.
At just over 300 pages, it is relatively short…a big plus. For me one of the marks of a good writer is that they can tell their story efficiently and economically without pages of back-story or monologue. I did think the beginning a little brief until I realised that it imparted all the reader needed to know about the main protagonist’s background.
I enjoy Tom Clancy, Larry Bond et al and their takes on technology-dependent modern warfare but the overly-repetitive descriptions of the inner workings of each and every weapon system wear me down after a while. How radios work, weapons shoot, and vehicles drive: we understand enough about these things to not need detailed descriptions. Also in the back of my mind is the thought that the military techno-thriller, as a take on reality, probably died with the myth of DESERT STORM, certainly it was dead in the water by 911.
The protagonists (bad guys) here are neither Third Shock or Eight Guards Army, nor some variation on the theme of revenge-focused, Death to America, Islamic jihadist. John had mentioned to me wanting a really evil villain for his next novel. The evil in his first novel will take some beating: the worst of the 1990s: Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia mixed in with the randomness of Michael Myers…you probably get the picture.
The Kiwi characters don’t appear til late in the book. They play key roles in resolving the plot line and offer tremendous scope for both pre- and se-quels. Not just a novelty, their presence reflects the level that Kiwis are engaged in the international private security sector. As late arrivals, not a lot of space is committed to their back story and that’s not necessarily a bad thing (see above above concise writing). It does mean though that the character development that might shape a reader’s perception of their language hasn’t occurred.
There been some discussion about whether they actually sound like Kiwis or not. For most of the world the question is probably moot as most Kiwis speak so fast that no one can understand them anyway, even before any matters of Kiwi jargon, slang or incorporated Te Reo Maori come into play. It’s a challenge in spoken speech – which is why Ben Kingsley’s Mazer Rackham, an apparent Maori, sounds South African – and even more difficult with the written word. Personally, I rely on my take on the character from their description and actions to date to imagine how they speak. Within the limitations imposed by their late entry into the story, John has done a pretty good job introducing them into his ‘verse…they will rock in the ‘quels…
Was there anything I didn’t like? Yup. There is a long anti-globalism rant near the end of the book. It’s disproportionately long compared to other dialogues throughout the book and unfortunately detracts from the story. It feels a little like a shaggy dog story where this is the punchline. This message could have been delivered more effectively, woven through the story as the plot developed.
The mark of a great read for me is wanting more when I get to the end. John has certainly delivered that and had better not take another ten years to produce his next work. With only a few pages to go, I couldn’t see how he could resolve the plot line. He did and very effectively…
Recommended as a refreshing change from jihad and an insight into what might be in only a few years…
Into a Dark Frontier
by John Mangan
Published by Oceanview Publishing, 2017