Back in the 1970's there was discussion, debate and disagreement about the likelihood of Croatian extremists operating in Australia, and whether or not there was any involvement by the Communist Yugoslavian Government. Tony Jones, ABC Journalist and Q&A host apparently raised this topic of conversation again recently, leading to the claims he makes in his debut historical thriller THE TWENTIETH MAN.
I should admit, first of all, to having very sketchy remembrance of the furore at the time, so the book with a combination of historical fact and fiction, real life people and made up characters provided an interesting combination of entertainment and information for this reader. The distinctions between these elements will probably be somewhat less clear for younger readers, or people with no awareness of politics from the time, which does make THE TWENTIETH MAN a book for those only looking for a good thriller, as well as those who might consider themselves political junkies.
THE TWENTIETH MAN is set in the 1970's with the central premise being there is an Croatian terrorist group, with operatives in Australia, determined to destroy the Yugoslavian government - in this case we move from a series of bombings in the heart of Sydney to an assassination threat against the visiting Yugoslavian Premier. All of which is delivered in a highly charged, rapid paced style. Regardless of whether you can or even want to tell the differences between fact and fiction, there's plenty in this really well written thriller to engage, amuse, and get the reader thinking long and hard about the ramifications of truth versus fiction.
With hat tips along the way to now well known journalistic names, much of the responsibility for identifying the threat, and then stopping it comes down to a combination of a young ABC Journalist, and daughter of a well known Communist - Anna Rosen; a rogue ASIO Agent Tom Moriarty; and the Federal Police. Intertwined with this is the coincidence of the election of the Whitlam Government; the appointment of Lionel Murphy as Attorney General and Murphy's war on ASIO who he believed needed to be made considerably more accountable than they had previously been.
Alongside the hefty doses of political and bureaucratic intrigue, there's romantic complications, family tensions and a nearly pitch perfect feel of time and place. Australia was more naive in those days, imbued with a sense of optimism and "she'll be rightness", fuelled by youth, enthusiasm and bravado, littered with politically incorrect behaviour, sexism, recreational drugs and a care-freeness that's gone missing from life these days. Jones does a particularly good job with sense of time and place - everything about Canberra and its denizens feels right, everything about the sense of enthusiasm that came out of the early Whitlam days works within the context of the book. Particularly when it's stacked up against the historical back-story of the Croatian rebels.
Extremely readable, fascinating and very cleverly done, THE TWENTIETH MAN is unfortunately a bit of a rarity in Australian fiction - an historical political thriller covering our recent past.