Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reviews for The Cobbler's Apprentice.

Rather than demonising Islamic terrorism, particularly Palestinian, McCutcheon opens a window into their desperate situation. This may well be the way forward in spy thrillers."

The reviews have started to come in for The Cobbler's Apprentice - the thriller with large sections set in Morocco and particularly in the Medina of Fez.

Jeff Popple, writing in the Canberra Times says:

The best of the current crop of terrorist novels is The Cobbler's Apprentice, by Australian author Sandy McCutcheon. This intelligent novel blends the machinations of the spy novel with the action and geopolitics of the international thriller to produce a credible and truly scary read. McCutcheon has a good grasp of modern-day politics and has concocted a clever plot that grips the reader's attention from the opening page to the final twist.

This is no black and white account of terrorism but an intricate, mufti-layered tale that captures the complexity of the war on terrorism and the people caught up in it. This is McCutcheon's finest novel to date and the best spy thriller I have read in some time.

Patricia Escalon writing for the Australia Council The Program says:

A spook thriller in the post-millenial jihadi era, The Cobbler's Apprentice keeps a furious pace, reeling in the reader from the opening sentences.

As a thriller, The Cobbler’s Apprentice hits the spot almost unerringly. Each chapter raises the stakes, compelling the reader to continue until the last page.

The bazaars in Fez heave around us. The smells assault our nostrils in our imagination. Funnily enough, we identify with Sami, our young mujahedeen. McCutcheon paints a very human portrait of Sami, one that reveals the motivations behind suicide bombers and the extremes that drive them to violence. Rather than demonising Islamic terrorism, particularly Palestinian, McCutcheon opens a window into their desperate situation. This may well be the way forward in spy thrillers.

Ross Fitzgerald writing in The Australian:

SANDY McCutcheon's latest fictive offering has a lot going for it. From Canada and the US to England, Cuba and Morocco, The Cobbler's Apprentice follows a young Palestinian, Samir Al-Hassani, who after being arrested in Iraq is held at Guantanamo Bay prison, from which he almost miraculously escapes. This sets up the book's basic tension: who is pulling the strings? Is it Samir's fellow jihadis, the Israeli secret service, the CIA and other agents based in Washington or a combination of the above?

The novel's central conceit -- terrorism and counter-terrorism via bacteriological warfare -- works extremely well. Along with airborne anthrax, pneumonic plague is one of the most virulent means of causing large-scale human casualties: the prospect of carriers infecting masses of people, especially in urban areas in the West, is terrifying indeed.

McCutcheon is most compelling describing the back streets of Morocco, especially the labyrinthine laneways of Fez. As a long-time Western agent reminisces, "Morocco had become one of his favourite destinations. Three times he had spent vacations touring the country, and twice agency business had taken him to Casablanca. Although he enjoyed most places in the country, it was Fez, with its extraordinary medina and old gardens, that lured him back time and again."

The Cobbler's Apprentice succeeds where many such novels fail.

The character of young Samir as a biological weapon of mass destruction, now aimed at those who released him, is utterly unforgettable, as is the determined and fully rounded photojournalist Nicolas Lander.

Jan Hallam writing in the Sunday Times says:

Sandy McCutcheon is one of a few mass market Australian novelists to tackle terrorism.

His recent thriller, Black Widow, looks at the aftermath of the 2004 Beslan siege, while his latest, The Cobbler’s Apprentice, follows a terror suspect, Samir Al-Hassani, who leaves Guantanamo Bay and becomes an agent of mass destruction.

It’s a gripping read because of its eerie prescience. In McCutcheon’s professional hands, it will also have you reading on the edge of your seats.

Samela Harris Adelaide Advertiser

This book is nothing less than a rip-roaring action thriller with politicians and thugs, scientists and spies — and an unnerving sense of the possible.

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin

In a word: Compelling!

Copies can be purchased by following this link: Gleebooks Online.



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    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    Cover design changes.

    It is fascinating to watch the process of design in book covers. In less than 24 hours Scribe changed both the font and image. Expect more changes!

    Design #3

    Design #2

    Design #1


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    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    First glimpse of new book.

    My thanks to Chantelle to alerting me to the preliminary artwork for the next book. All that is known is that it is the story of a Palestinian refugee who winds up in Guantanamo...The story also travels through Cuba and Morocco, so expect some exotic locations. There is a whisper around that this book may have already been optioned for a movie. It looks really interesting and I love the artwork. The book is due out mid-September this year. According to his agent, McCutcheon will be returning to Australia from Moroccco for a book launch at the Brisbane Writers Festival. This is, so I am told, yet to be confirmed.


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    Sunday, April 09, 2006

    News Update

    According to a couple of rumours, the novel Black Widow, is going to be translated into Polish. One website also mentions Slovenian, but I can't confirm that. The Polish translation should be available in about 18 months. Book industry insiders say that German, French and Spanish translations are sure to follow. But, given the subject matter, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the Russian version!

    The Brisbane Writers Festival is going to be the venue for the launch of McCutcheon's next book. The novel, The Cobbler's Apprentice, I was told is a "major thriller", so those fans who have been waiting since The Haha Man, have only a few months to go. The festival is in Australia in September and McCutcheon is expected to return to Australia for the entire week before returning to Morocco where he is writing.


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    Saturday, April 08, 2006

    Black Widow

    For my money, one of the best things McCutcheon has written. Here's what the publishers and reviewers had to say.

    The first of September was a special day for schoolchildren in Beslan, traditionally celebrated as the ‘Day of Knowledge’. But after September 2004 the day would be remembered for all the wrong reasons, when a group of terrorists took hostages at Beslan’s School Number One …

    Real-life headlines have given Sandy McCutcheon the substance of a plot that wrestles with information and disinformation in a masterful telling of the betrayals of ordinary people caught in political conflict.

    Six teachers of children killed in the school siege - Fatima, Tatyana, Madina, Zoia, Katya, and Alina – have come together to plan a unique memorial for the dead hostages. In a gripping role-reversal, they have become the hostage-takers, and a group of the terrorists are at their mercy. But, as they come face to face with their arch enemies, each ‘black widow’ is forced to confront her own demons. What is justice? What price revenge? What price truth? Black Widow ratchets up the unbearable tension for an explosive showdown.

    A taut and compelling psychological thriller, Black Widow is an astonishing achievement.
    Scribe Publishers

    Black Widow - The Reviews

    'Would you be capable of killing to avenge the death of a child? A story like Beslan can seem so very far away. In Black Widow, McCutcheon brings it right up close in chilling, painful detail. The cleverly constructed plot will propel you through the pain of it. It's a taut psychological drama carefully written with compassion and empathy.'
    - Lucy Clark, Sunday Telegraph.

    Black Widow is one of the most moving and thought provoking books of the year, a psychological thriller that humanises a tragedy and examines the possible result of succumbing to the "eye-for-an-eye" urge that would pass through all victims. Beautifully paced and sensitively presented this is an outstanding novel.

    Australian Crime Fiction Database at www.crimedownunder.com.

    The Bottom Line: The Beslan School siege is the basis from which this beautifully told story of revenge comes. One of the books of the year.

    Full Review:

    "We have not survived Beslan. We are no longer the people we were before September the first. We are different people now. Deep in all of us, like deeply buried shrapnel, lies the legacy of those days. Like so many others, it has become part of who we are. We are Beslan."

    Sandy McCutcheon has taken a tragic real-life event and expanded it out into a fascinating "what-if" scenario that blurs the line between fact and fiction. The impotent feelings of rage that I should imagine are experienced by every victim of terrorism are given vent in Black Widow a tale that chronicles a carefully planned and executed act of revenge.

    This all-consuming need for revenge forms the basis for a deeply moving story that masterfully combines the details of the horrors inside the walls of a Beslan school with a gripping fictional response and the disturbing emotional fallout that followed. The terrifying and dramatic takeover of the Beslan Number One School by a group of Chechen terrorists in September 2004 saw over 1300 men, women and children taken hostage. Over the next 3 days were held in complete terror, some were executed, they were kept in the most trying of conditions on the gymnasium floor without water and were subjected to traumatic scenes that would stay with them for the rest of their lives. When the siege was finally ended by Russian soldiers, the lives of 1300 people had been changed forever.

    This fictional account is about six teachers who survived the horrors of the school massacre in Beslan and have put together a gripping memorial to honour the dead on the anniversary of the tragic event. Over three days they plan to remember the events that have scarred their lives, only this time, they're the ones who are going to be in control, they're the ones who would be heard, and they're the ones who will decide whether their captives will live or die.

    As part of their memorial, the six women have taken hostage 4 young people, 3 men and a woman, each of them a relative of the original terrorists. Over 3 gruelling days they carry out their carefully rehearsed plan, subjecting their hostages to a specific brand of torture in an attempt to purge themselves of 2 years worth of built up rage and hatred against their captors. But what the women aren't prepared for is the level of defiance and anger demonstrated by their captives.

    Filming themselves and their hostages, the teachers seek to recount their horrific experiences, putting their captive audience through the same deprivations and humiliations that they suffered. It's an extremely moving experience and is designed to allow the teachers to feel as though they have achieved some form of justice, but they find that justice is not an easy state to achieve.

    Though the process is supposed to be a healing one, once the memories are recalled, the women find themselves battling to survive all over again. This time they've got to escape from themselves. It's an emotionally harrowing story that I found deeply moving making what had previously been simply a news story from the other side of the world into a much more personal and moving tragedy.

    Fatima, Tatyana, Madina, Zoia, Katya and Alina carry out their plan with an efficiency that begins with an outward calm that belies the immense emotion that they feel inside. They are scarred both inside and out and are all itching to get at their hostages, wanting to make them feel their pain. Each of the women are explored, their background, their specialities and, now, the way they have been affected after Beslan.

    Black Widow is a methodical recounting of the events that took place on September 1, 2004, only now these events are being paced by the memorial 2 years later. Minute for minute the women pay their respects to the dead and try to explain the pain and suffering to their captives, in fact, they'd like nothing better than to have their captives suffer the way they did.

    McCutcheon has poured immense measures of emotion into his story. Katya, the story's narrator is a noted storyteller and it's through her lectures and anecdotes told to the captives that we gain a true idea of just how deeply they have been marked. Their need to hurt in retaliation exudes from each of the women, in their words and actions with stinging barbs and promises of a cruel death designed to strike fear in their hostage's hearts.

    In my opinion Black Widow is one of the most moving and thought provoking books of the year, a psychological thriller that humanises a tragedy and examines the possible result of succumbing to the "eye-for-an-eye" urge that would pass through all victims. Beautifully paced and sensitively presented this is an outstanding novel.

    Out of interest, "the Black Widows" is the name given to the female terrorists who sit amongst the hostages with explosives strapped to their bodies. Should a rescue attempt be made or the hostages attempt to attack or escape, these explosives may be detonated either by the woman herself or by one of the other terrorists.


    Six female teachers who survived the Beslan school massacre by Chechen terrorists in 2004 that ended with 331 people dead – half of them children – decide on a terrible act of revenge and justice. They dress in the same black garb as the terrorists and take the sons and a daughter of the terrorists hostage. While a camera rolls they retell the horrors of what happened inside the school, moment by moment, in front of the hostages. ABC presenter McCutcheon narrates a taut psychological drama that challenges notions of revenge and justice – Frank Walker – Sun Herald

    Each of Katya's moments to camera prompts a flashback on her part to the tragic turn of events in Beslan, which, to McCutcheon's credit, are vividly rendered. With the outcome already known, it's testimony to an artful narrative structure that one feels compelled to read on given such confronting revelations about events that we know to be true.

    As the action alternates between the deteriorating situations in the hangar in the forest and the school, time begins to run out, prompting the question, will the teachers of Beslan carry out their terrible revenge? There are no guarantees.

    In Black Widow, McCutcheon takes political events of the recent past and gives them an immediate human dimension. The fact that his focus is primarily on the women and children caught up in a war about power is understandable and worthy. The book evokes a strong sense of moral outrage and compassion.

    Sue Turnbull - Sydney Morning Herald

    McCutcheon is on a literary roll. After a spate of excellent thrillers he published one of the best memoirs of 2005, The Magician’s Son, and now follows that up with a timely compelling novel based on the 2004 Beslan massacre... an intense psychological drama.
    – Phil Brown - Brisbane News



    The Magician's Son

    The long awaited memoir!

    The Magician's Son

    This is compelling and dramatic stuff .. the writer gently and thoughtfully runs his hands over the fabric of his life which,like an ill-kept antique rug, is worn and threadbare with holes and broken strands but, on the whole, intricate and full of wonder. This is a lovely, poignant story, beautifully told, with an astounding postscript that will leave you smiling through tears.
    Sunday Telegraph

    I have not read a more deeply felt account of the peculiar emotional void that can afflict the adopted child: the sense of disconnectedness and alienation, the underlying psychic loneliness, the yearning for love, for belonging.

    - Evan Williams. The Australian

    Sandy McCutcheon, one of Australia's most popular national broadcasters, was adopted into a respectable, well-off family, but it was one in which he never felt at home. His yearning for acceptance was matched by an instinct to rebel, and by frustration with his parents' refusal to acknowledge his adoption. He did not learn the truth about his birth for fifty years, and when he did the circumstances were so convoluted as to defy belief. Eventually he discovered a family with uncanny parallels between its generations, where history has been repeated not once but several times.

    Sandy's extraordinary story sheds light on things that affect us whether we're adopted or not: on how memory helps shape our sense of self, on the importance of not harbouring resentment, on the way the heart knows things that the mind does not. And the way life never stops delivering surprises . . .

    The Magician's Son is an unflinchingly honest and poignant account of growing up without a history.

    Read Reviews:

    Extract of review in Sunday Telegraph by Lucy Clark
    July 17 2005

    When author and radio broadcaster Sandy McCutcheon released his novel In Wolf’s Clothing in 1997 he did a very curious and cryptic thing. He dedicated it to “Brian David Parry who has been working undercover in Australia and New Zealand since 1949” The next lines read… “And to all those who have attempted, unsuccessfully, to track him down.”

    Readers didn’t know it, but McCutcheon had discovered at the age of 48 that he was Brian David Parry: a startling revelation that was the crux of the emotionally tumultuous story of identity, adoption, longing and forgiveness.

    McCutcheon, a writer of thrillers and host of Radio National’s Australia Talks Back tells this story in his wonderful and moving memoir The Magician’s Son

    Not just a chronological recounting of a life. The Magician’s Son is also a thoughtful, intelligent meditation on one of the bigger recurring questions in life: nature or nurture?

    …This is compelling stuff and it reminds you that families remain the most fascinating tableau, the place where true drama resides.

    McCutcheon doesn’t need to embellish – the simple unfolding of events is compelling enough, and indeed his graceful restraint in telling his story is marked by a quiet tenderness.

    The writer gently and thoughtfully runs his hand over his life which, like an ill-kept antique rug, is worn and threadbare with holes and broken strands but, on the whole, intricate and full of wonder.

    This is a lovely, poignant story, beautifully told, with an astounding postscript that will leave you smiling through tears.

    Quest for identity - Evan Williams
    July 16, 2005

    WHEN Sandy McCutcheon was two, he was adopted by a well-to-do suburban dentist and his wife in Christchurch, New Zealand. Mac and Mary McCutcheon were conscientious parents but rarely showed him much affection and hid from him the truth about his birth. Indeed, they suppressed any mention of his natural parents. But questions kept bothering the little boy. Why were the McCutcheons so secretive about his earliest years? What were these fleeting impressions that lurked in his mind? Why was he taunted at school with gossip and rumour? As he puts it in this remarkable memoir, "It was as if my own past were a no-go zone, a foreign country for which I'd not been issued a visa."

    His story is not unique. Many adopted children long to discover the truth about their origins (and it is easier to do so now than it was in the 1950s). But for Sandy McCutcheon - best known as the presenter of Australia Talks Back on ABC Radio National - the gaps in his life presented a haunting challenge. His book is an account, almost metaphysical in spirit, of his search for identity, for selfhood, for those culminating certainties that would verify and legitimise his sense of reality, his status as a human being, a citizen, a person.

    I have not read a more deeply felt account of the peculiar emotional void that can afflict the adopted child: the sense of disconnectedness and alienation, the underlying psychic loneliness, the yearning for love, for belonging.

    In McCutcheon's case, that yearning was never outgrown. Despite the distractions of a successful career, it persisted well beyond childhood. He was 48 when he discovered - in 1995 - that his real name was Brian David Parry. That news came to him from Mary as she was dying, one of her few acts of kindness. He discovered he had siblings as well, and envied his sister's easy and cheerful acceptance of a mystery he found intolerable. The two became estranged. Mac and Mary, with their deeply conservative instincts, disowned him on account of his youthful radicalism, his support for left-wing causes. And his first wife, who sided with the McCutcheons in their disapproval, would have no more to do with him. He lost contact with the children of that marriage, a son and a daughter. Estrangement and isolation became the recurring themes of his life.

    When he describes how he traced his past and made contact with surviving relatives, The Magician's Son has all the excitement of a good detective story. His first meeting with his natural siblings, a brother and sister, in Brisbane in 1998 is an enthralling passage.

    His father, Morris Parry, turns out to have been a fishmonger, a trade of which McCutcheon approved. Various cousins and half-brothers, and a splendidly eccentric pistol-packing grandmother, emerge along the way. But there was a dark side to his quest: no one wanted to talk about his mother, Joan Parry. Promiscuous and fond of drink, she appears to have walked out on Morris and moved in with a lover, Norm Penter, leaving Sandy and his siblings to be adopted out.

    Tracking down and confronting Penter became the final, most daunting part of McCutcheon's quest. Was Norm possibly his real father? Had he been a good husband to Joan? Had Morris thrown her out on learning of her infidelity? His meeting with Norm, whom he had to force himself to confront, turns out to be nothing like he expected.

    If McCutcheon had had a perfectly normal childhood, his life would still have been interesting enough to justify a book of sorts. His career as an actor, writer and broadcaster, enlivened with strange digressions into Buddhist meditation and an obsessive preoccupation with Finland and Nordic forests, is fascinating in itself. His accounts of his early sexual initiatives are candid and charming. He never lacked for intense relationships with women, though most ended abruptly. One, however, provides a lovely postscript to his story. In 1967, he fell in love with an Irish Catholic girl, who broke the news to him in a letter after they had parted that she had borne him a daughter: 30 years later, the central mysteries of his life by then resolved and he married happily for the second time, with two more children, his lost daughter made contact with him by email. It was for McCutcheon the crowning joy in his struggle for self-knowledge.

    When his identity was still a mystery, he developed all kinds of theories about who he might be, some intuitive, some prompted by dreams or portents, some by intelligent guesswork. For a while he thought he might be Jewish, a central European, a bastard child of a Nazi family, a fugitive from a post-war camp for displaced persons. He had a dim memory of his father as a magician and his book is pervaded by an appropriate sense of magic, a feeling for the numinous. He describes the terror he first experienced on beholding the "perfect beauty" of a New Zealand mountain landscape in the light of dawn. That the truth about his beginnings turns out to be more prosaic than he imagined in no way diminishes his exhilaration or relief. Nor should it disappoint his readers. This is an absorbing tale of adventure and discovery.

    THE MAGICIAN'S SON by Sandy McCutcheon, Penguin, 312pp. Reviewed by Mike Crean. Christchurch Press (New Zealand)

    If this book was fiction, it would be dismissed as unbelievable. Yet the bitter-sweet life story of forn1er Christchurch man Sandy McCutcheon, rejected and adopted out as a two-year-old, is palpably true.

    The harrowing account of his 40-year quest to establish his identity takes many twists. If the tale of rejection, forsaken love and emotion denied does not make the reader weep, the later chapters of reconciliation, especially with the daughter he had never known, should do it.

    McCutcheon is a practiced novelist but he leaves his polished writing on the porch with this memoir. This is the raw, first-person testament of one who has suffered almost to insanity. Only when he interposes a dream sequence does the writing take on a professional sheen.

    While it can be seen as an impassioned plea not to toy with the emotions of children, to regard the traumas their tender imaginations can go through, it is also a dispassionate narrative. How else could the writer tell of his aberrant youth, his love affairs, his experiments in Buddhism, his unusual career?

    The right of adopted children to know who their parents were was enacted more than a decade ago, but none of the other stories has the same power to move as McCutcheon's.

    Few such searches could have found so many surprises or so many skeletons in cupboards. But it is the startling unfolding of humanity in a story about inhumanity that makes it such a satisfying read.



    Safe Haven

    I recently came across a copy of Safe Haven, considered as one of the best of McCutcheon's earlier novels. This is the one where Osama bin Laden is described - and remember this was well before 9/11. Hard to get masterpiece of political fiction. Certainly worth the effort if you can find it.

    Review from Imago:

    In constructing an intelligent story of post Eurocentric-Cold-War intelligence in the 21st century, where the global struggle between good and evil is not always black and white, McCutcheon plays with fact and fiction in his plotting. He utilises actual (usually headline-making) events and organisations — in this case the Muslim terrorist network, Al Qaida, its leader Osama Bin Laden, and the Israeli intelligence organisation, Mossad — as the basis for a fictional premise; the far-ranging effects of high-level infiltration of the world's intelligence agencies.

    Although there are exotic locales aplenty, with the action taking place in Tasmania, New Zealand, South America, Italy and Kosovo, these are all written with a vivid literary sense of place which binds Australia and New Zealand logically to the world stage. In this we are not just an exotic outpost of international politics, but a player (at times realistically bumbling) in the messy world of espionage.

    The safe haven of the title is New Zealand — which McCutcheon knows well having been born and brought up there — but the phrase also functions metaphorically for Oscar and Anna as each searches for some refuge and protection from their own fears. McCutcheon has a superb ear for conversation and his writing of dialogue is one of the novel's strengths. No matter how terse or extended the book's conversations, they always seem natural and manage to reveal and reinforce character while moving the plot forward — a facility perhaps not surprising as McCutcheon has written twenty two plays and has a longstanding career as a national radio broadcaster.

    Alongside this aural facility is an eye for observing the minute nuances of human interaction, and thus the most exhilarating scenes of action are touched also with vivid visual description. The author's background as an investigative reporter shows in the detailed research which has obviously gone into Safe Haven, and while there is appropriate discussion of the up-to-date technology driving current day espionage, the plot is propelled by his strong characterisations rather than lengthy descriptions of weapons and hardware.

    Underlying all of McCutcheon's masterly plotting, characterisation and description is his own ever-present (but never preaching) moral outlook. He drives his characters to face a series of ethical dilemmas, and presents the reader with propositions on such matters of current concern as Reconciliation with the Indigenous population, the environment and global warming, and (perhaps most surprising in a 'thriller') gun and arms control.

    Read full review in DOTLIT

    NEWFLASH! Gleebooks say they can source some copies. GLEEBOOKS


    The Haha Man


    Sandy McCutcheon reaches into the heart beneath the headlines of people-smuggling, detention centres and the terrible price of freedom.

    In a marketplace in Afghanistan, a son watches his father die at the hands of the Taliban. Karim Mazari knows he must flee his homeland if he is to have any chance of survival, but at a time of international uncertainty and terror, compassion can be hard to find. But a passport and a ticket to Australia can be bought...


    Crimefile by Graeme Blundell

    Sandy McCutcheon writes political thrillers that underline the notion of corrosive international villainy and the fragility of civilisation in the hands of a shabby, introverted miasmic intelligence culture.

    He possesses an assured grasp of conspiracies within conspiracies and creates the illusion that his confronting chilling stories are probably true. His style is a blend of journalism, politics and metaphysics set in an expressionist landscape of betrayal, violence and blind faith.

    The Haha Man takes us inside the Australian Government's duplicitous stand on illegal immigrants, beneath the headlines and manipulated photographs, and into detention centres that would have made Adolf Eichmann jealous, and the underground networks pursuing freedom for asylum seekers. Frightening stuff: this reader was white-faced with rage at the novel's end.

    McCutcheon is almost without peer as master of the circuitous conspiracy genre of spy thriller, on the top shelf with Britain's Henry Porter.

    Excerpts from Nicola Walker's rave review in the prestigious AUSTRALIAN BOOK REVIEW.

    The Haha Man has the edge over its most obvious predecessor, Tom Keneally's The Tyrant's Novel A cannily constructed novel.... a rollicking good read that highlights the refugee plight without a whiff of the lecture hall. It is all hugely enjoyable, made doubly so because of The Haha Man's quite profound moral theme.

    This review is from Australian Bookseller & Publisher magazine

    Open the cover of Sandy McCutcheon's The Haha Man and be prepared for a mind-spinning adventure. Likened to the works of John Le Carré and Martin Cruz Smith, The Haha Man charts the lives of various characters in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Australia that are deeply affected by the political unrest in Afghanistan. The author catapults the reader into a world of terrorism, biological weapons (the engineered virus scenes are ghoulishly fascinating), Taliban massacres and general Islamic culture and conflict.

    Central to the plot is Karim Mazari, an Afghani keen to avenge his father's death at the hands of the Taliban. He manages to escape to Australia via an elaborate people- smuggling ring run by an eclectic group of wealthy women (who believe that 'life is too short to stuff mushrooms'), disenchanted politicians and Afghani migrants.

    Michelle Atkins is a freelance writer.

    The Weekend Australian Review 4 -5 Dec 2004 selected it as one of the top books of the year.Here is what they said.

    With the verdicts of our regular critics in mind, Helen Elliott (fiction) and James Hall (nonfiction) select some of the year's outstanding books -- all of them ideal Christmas gifts.
    Sandy McCutcheon's The Haha Man, (HarperCollins, ($29.95): another brilliant political thriller takes us inside the Australian Government's duplicitous stand on illegal immigrants, beneath the headlines and manipulated photographs, into detention centres that would make Adolf Eichmann jealous.

    The novel is available. For online service try Gleebooks


    Delicate Indecencies



    In a wintry graveyard, a young man looks death in the eye and does not live to tell the secrets he holds. In Russia, the opening of a dusty archive reveals clues about a deadly game which has not yet reached its conclusion. In an isolated farmhouse, an old man is kept prisoner while his captors try to extract vital information from his rambling mind. Into this sticky web of deceit and intrigue stumbles Martin Teschmaker, a newly redundant insurance investigator who has just been deserted by his wife. Seeking relief from his mid-life crisis, Teschmaker contacts an old girlfriend, Jane Morris. With that one phone call he is plunged into an underworld where nothing and no one can be taken at face value. As he attempts to remove the masks, Teschmaker realises the truth is more complex and more dangerous than he could ever have imagined. And somehow he has to bring this deadly game to its conclusion, and survive.


    Master of the telling detail - CRIME FILE

    By: Graeme Blundell

    SANDY McCutcheon writes political thrillers that underline the notion of corrosive international villainy and the fragility of civilisation in the hands of a shabby, miasmic intelligence culture. His trick is to weave the headlines of real life into fictional action, in prose dressed down to contemporary-bleak, with terrific dialogue and a travel writer's sense of place.

    In his other life a distinguished broadcaster, the master storyteller embellishes the generic melodrama with idiosyncratic and telling detail.

    McCutcheon has the enviable ability to create the illusion that his unlikely stories are probably true. Delicate Indecencies is about wintry graveyards, dusty archives, a newly redundant insurance investigator, the dogged Martin Teschmaker, recently deserted by his wife, a one-time KGB chief, Konstantin Laverov, weary with life and suffering a resurgence of Stalinist paranoia and rambling minds, and the trade in small, portable nuclear bombs missing from the ex-Soviet arsenal.

    McCutcheon vaporises many of the woodenly familiar ideas that clutter espionage fiction, working in a literary welder's mask that enables him to handle dangerously hot material (his previous novel, Safe Haven, featured the now-famous and feared Muslim terrorist network al-Qa'ida, and the notorious Osama bin Laden) and his characters have ambivalence and authenticity.

    McCutcheon has become the local master of the circuitous conspiracy genre of spy thriller.


    Audio book and paperback are usually available But check online with


    Poison Tree


    This was the final book in the trilogy that started with In Wolfs Clothing and Peace Crimes. It again features the wonderful Savva Golitsyn but brings the colourful Ramdas Nair to centre stage.


    Sacked from ASIO for his involvement in the Peace Crimes Affair, Ramdas Nair is now a private detective facing bankruptcy. He can sink no lower. Or so he thinks.

    Ramdas Nair should know by now that asking questions can get you into trouble, and that's just what he finds when he teams up with Persephone Tsakas, a renegade journalist. Together they sniff out a trail of dirty deals, infidelity and blackmail which leads to the prime minister's right-hand man.

    When Ramdas takes the fall, where else can he turn for help but to Savva Golitsyn, the retired Russian sleeper-spy. Seeking only to clear his name, Ramdas soon becomes embroiled in something much bigger than political sex scandals. As India and Pakistan explode nuclear tests a select group, hand-picked from the world's elite intelligence agencies, searches for the right man to go under cover...


    Hard to get. Some people have managed to get copies from the author, but your best bet is online from Gleebooks. Search here