Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Trade Paperback – 28 July 2021)
Series: John Bailey – Book Three
Length: 353 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
One of Australia’s fastest rising crime fiction authors, Tim Ayliffe, returns with another impressive and brilliantly relevant novel, The Enemy Within.
Ayliffe is a great author whose work I have been really enjoying over the last couple of years as he sets some fantastic stories around contemporary Australian subjects. Debuting in 2018, this journalist wrote a compelling and intriguing first novel with The Greater Good, which looked at political corruption and the growing influence of China in Australia. He followed it up in 2019 with State of Fear, which looked at Islamic terrorism and featured a dramatic and impactful story. Now Ayliffe checks out the complete opposite end of the political spectrum in The Enemy Within, which features a look at growing right-wing radicals.
As the smoke from devastating January 2020 bushfires covers Sydney, investigative reporter John Bailey is covering a far more dangerous threat in the suburbs. Barely recovered from the traumatic events that took the love of his life from him, Bailey is now working for a news magazine. His first story will cover the re-emergence of right-wing nationalists and white supremacist groups in Australia. Attending one of their meetings, where a controversial American social media star whose entrance into the country has gained much political opposition and protest, Bailey attempts to gain the pulse of this movement, only to face violence and an anti-media mentality from the crowd.
Working on his story, Bailey has no idea of the chaos that is about to rain down on his life. After he meets with an old contact and informant, Bailey’s house is raided by the Australian Federal Police. The police are investigating him for a story he ran back while he was a war correspondent that highlighted the alleged war crimes Australian soldiers committed in the Middle East. Armed with a warrant granting them access to his phone, computer and all his files, the police tear through Bailey’s life and throw him in gaol for attempting to impede their search.
With the entire nation’s media covering his plight, Bailey is released from prison and soon discovers that someone orchestrated the police raid to delete evidence from the rally. Attempting to investigate further, Bailey is shocked when his contact ends up dead in mysterious circumstances and the police fail to investigate. With Sydney on the verge of a race war, Bailey continues his investigation and soon uncovers proof about a dangerous conspiracy that aims to shake the very foundations of Australian life. With only his old friend CIA agent Ronnie Johnson as backup, Bailey attempts to stop this plot before it is too late. But with a seemingly untouchable enemy targeting him from the shadows, has Bailey finally met an opponent even more determined than he is?
This was an awesome and captivating novel from Ayliffe who once again produces an intense, character-driven narrative. Set around some very relevant and controversial topics, The Enemy Within is a powerful and exciting novel that takes the reader on a compelling ride. I had a fantastic time reading this clever book and I loved the fascinating examinations of one of the more insidious threats facing Australia.
Set in the blistering, smoke covered streets of early 2020 Sydney, this story starts with protagonist John Bailey engaged in a controversial story about the rising far-right wing. After a predictably violent confrontation, the narrative takes off like a shot, with the protagonist investigating a series of concerning events, including several murders, racial attacks, and a re-opened investigation into an old story of his that sees the AFP raid his house. Each of these separate investigative threads are drawn together as the book progresses, and the reader is treated to an impressive and deadly conspiracy with several clever allusions to real-world issues and events. This was a very exciting and captivating novel to get through, and I found myself reading it extremely quickly, nearly finishing it off in a day. The story leads up to an awesome and intense conclusion, where Bailey uncovers the entire scope of the plot and races to stop it. While the identity of some of the participants is very clear since the character’s introductions, their full plan, methods, and reach are more hidden and it was great to see the protagonist uncover them all, especially as several were cleverly hidden in innocuous moments earlier in the novel. There is even an excellent twist towards the end of the book that reveals a well-hidden antagonist, which I particularly enjoyed as it was so skilfully inserted into the story. I ended having an excellent time getting through this amazing narrative, and this might be one of the best stories that Ayliffe has so far written.
One of the things that I have always enjoyed about the John Bailey novels is the way in which so much of the amazing story was tied to how extremely damaged the titular protagonist is. John Bailey is a veteran reporter whose previous life as a war correspondent has left him extremely broken, especially after being tortured by a dangerous terrorist leader. This eventually led to him becoming an alcoholic, which ruined his career and separated him from his family. However, since the start of the series, Bailey has shown some real character growth, although this is usually accompanied by some traumatic events or tragic moments. In The Enemy Within, as Bailey is still recovering from the loss of his lover at the end of State of Fear. Despite making some strides to recover, Bailey is still reeling from the loss, and this becomes a major aspect of his character in this latest book. This is especially true as Ayliffe does an outstanding job of highlighting the grieving process and showing Bailey’s feelings of despair. It was really moving to see Bailey in this novel, and I was glad to see him continue to recover from all the bad events of his life, including stopping drinking and getting a dog. However, Bailey still has an unerring knack to annoy the subjects of his stories, and he ends up getting into all sorts of danger. It was great to see him getting to the root of this story by any means necessary, and I continued to appreciate his impressive development.
I also love the way that the each of Ayliffe’s novels feature some fascinating contemporary issues facing Australia or the wider world. In The Enemy Within, the main issue is the rise of Australian right-wing and white supremacist groups in recent years. Like in the rest of the world, these groups have been becoming a bit more prominent recently in Australia, and Ayliffe does an excellent job analysing this issue throughout his novel. The author does a deep examination of the movement as the story progresses, and the reader is given a good insight into their concerns, motivations, and the reasons why the movement has been gaining progress in recent years. There are some clever parallels between the events or people portrayed in the novel and real life, which was interesting to see. Examples of this include the government allowing controversial right-wing figures into the country despite protests, and the reactions of certain right-wing media groups. I liked how Ayliffe once again featured the character of Keith Roberts, a right-wing commentator who is a pastiche of several Australian radio personalities. It was also quite fascinating to see how the concerns and motivations of the right-wing groups were extremely like some of the Islamic terrorists featured in State of Fear, with both groups feeling disconnected from and attacked by mainstream Australian society. Not only is this extremely fascinating and thought-provoking but it also serves as an amazing basis for Ayliffe’s narrative. The author does a fantastic job of wrapping his thrilling story around some of these elements, and it makes the overall narrative extremely relevant.
I also must highlight another significant contemporary inclusion that was featured in The Enemy Within, and that was the Australian Federal Police’s raids on Bailey’s house. This police raid is a direct reference to a series of controversial raids that occurred on several media organisations, including ABC News (who Ayliffe works for), in relation to articles they published. Ayliffe uses these real-life examples to really punch up what happens within The Enemy Within, and he produces some realistic scenes that were comparable to this. The subject of the articles that prompt the raids are also very similar and feature another topic that is quite controversial in Australia in the moment, that of alleged war-crimes by Australian soldiers fighting in the Middle East. Just like with the other divisive topics featured in this novel, Ayliffe did a fantastic job re-imagining these events in his novel, and it produces some excellent inclusions that will particularly resonate with an Australian audience. I deeply appreciated the way in which he was able to work these events into his story, and I think that it made The Enemy Within a much more compelling and distinctive read.
I have to say that I also really loved the author’s use of setting in The Enemy Within. This latest book is set in early 2020, when Sydney was surrounded by some of the worst bushfires in Australian history and the entire city was covered in smoke for months. Ayliffe does an excellent job portraying these terrible conditions, no doubt drawn from his own personal experiences, and the reader gets a good idea of how difficult life was under those conditions (it certainly brought me back to that time, although we didn’t have it quite as bad down in Canberra). Ayliffe uses this unique setting to full effect throughout the book and it provides some fitting atmosphere for the narrative, especially as the landscape reflects the simmering tensions flaring up within the city. This was one of the more distinctive features of The Enemy Within, and I really appreciated the way the author used it to enhance his great story. I also quite enjoyed the throwaway references to COVID-19, with none of the characters particularly concerned about it considering everything else that was happening, and I have no doubt that Ayliffe’s next novel will make great use of the pandemic in some way.
With his latest novel, The Enemy Within, Tim Ayliffe continues to showcase why he is one of the best new writers of Australian crime fiction. The Enemy Within had an awesome and incredible story that perfectly brings in amazing contemporary Australian issues and settings, which are expertly worked into a thrilling novel. I had an outstanding time reading this fantastic read and it comes highly recommended.