The second Jeff Bradley novel from New Zealand author, Thomas Ryan, certainly made me really want to shunt my as yet unread copy of the first (The Field of Blackbirds) up in priority.
A thriller in construction, THE MARK OF HALAM is fast-paced, big-threat, enemies on all sides, one man to save the day in style. It helps that Jeff Bradley is a reluctant sort of a hero, dragged into the conflict initially when a good friend is threatened, and ultimately because there is a terrorist plot, and then there's something much more personal.
Setting THE MARK OF HALAM mostly in New Zealand, against the backdrop of that country's long-term anti-nuclear stance, making the terrorist target a nuclear powered submarine is an interesting undertaking. As with all thrillers of this nature there are aspects to the plot that you're just going to have to go with - a target like that staying put when the threat is so profound, the way that the defences are laid out, probably even some of the technical details which would pass most readers by completely. What matters here is that there are those few minor "moments" throughout, and none of them really threaten to drop the reader out of the storyline. Once invested, you are very much with Bradley until the end, come what may.
Given that this is a second novel in a series, not having read the first one yet didn't have any impact. Bradley's background and his personality are quickly understood. His role as all action hero nuanced enough to provide reasons for what he's doing regardless of whether or not the personal threat is something that is or isn't explored in the earlier book (no idea if that is the case as yet).
With a reasonable supporting cast, and a really good central hero figure, THE MARK OF HALAM is classic big threat / big risk action thriller. The setting of the harbour, the political background and even the inclusion of a winery, created a good sense of place, time and society in which to act out all of the elements of the story. All of which definitely means the first book needs to be read as soon as possible.