Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia (Trade Paperback – 22 July 2019)
Series: John Bailey – Book Two
Length: 390 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
One of the fastest-rising Australian thriller writers, Tim Ayliffe, follows up his impressive debut with an excellent second entry in his John Bailey series, State of Fear.
Tim Ayliffe is a talented author who debuted in 2018 with The Greater Good, the first John Bailey book. This novel explored political corruption and international interference in Australia and made excellent use of the author’s experiences as a journalist. I really enjoyed this first book and was rather interested when I received the second novel from Ayliffe, State of Fear, in 2019. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to read State of Fear when it first came out, and it has been in my to-read pile for a while, until I received a copy of the third John Bailey novel, The Enemy Within, a few weeks ago. I rather liked the sound of the third book’s plot, and I really wanted to read and review it. However, before checking out The Enemy Within I thought it would make more sense to read State of Fear first, and boy am I glad that I did.
Throughout his long career as a journalist and war correspondent, John Bailey has faced many dangers and been in several terrible situations. However, his worst encounter was with the notorious terrorist mastermind, Mustafa al-Baghdadi, who kidnapped Bailey while he was reporting on the invasion in Afghanistan and relentlessly tortured him mentally and psychically. Following his release from the terrorist group and a retirement from working in active war zones, Bailey thought that his days of dealing with terrorists was over, but he was wrong.
Speaking at a conference on Islamic terrorism in London, Bailey is horrified when a radicalised terrorist murders a woman in front of the convention centre. Rattled, Bailey returns home to Sydney, only to find his troubles have followed him there. The son of his former driver in Bagdad has gone missing, and Bailey has been implored to help. Investigating, Bailey finds that the son has been in contact with some dangerous men with connections to Islamic terrorist cells. Worse, it appears that they are planning to launch a massive attack in Sydney.
Desperate to save his friend’s son from making a terrible mistake, Bailey attempts to make sense of the terrible events unfolding in Sydney. However, the deeper he goes, the clearer it becomes that Mustafa al-Baghdadi is back, and he is targeting Bailey personally. As Bailey and everyone he loves comes under attack, Bailey is forced to turn to his old friend, CIA agent Ronnie Johnson, to find Mustafa and take him down. But will they be able to stop Mustafa before it is too late, or will the world’s most dangerous terrorist destroy everything that Bailey holds dear?
State of Fear was an excellent and powerful novel that takes its great protagonist on a rough and dangerous journey through hell and back. Ayliffe has definitely grown as an author since his first novel, and this second book is a compelling and intense novel with a well-crafted narrative. Starting off with an intense beginning, the protagonist is swiftly shoved into his latest harrowing adventure, as the terrorist he thought he escaped violently bursts back into his life. This is a very captivating novel, and despite its longer length I found myself powering through it in a very short amount of time. The protagonist goes through a real wringer as he is forced to visit the ghosts of his past while trying to stop his foe’s latest plot. Featuring a sprawling and deadly investigation through the suburbs of Sydney, the story eventually journeys back to London, where the protagonist and his friends engage in a deadly and dramatic fight to stop a deadly attack. There is so much going on in this story, and the reader will experience outstanding action, powerful drama, and some major tragedy, especially in the novel’s dramatic conclusion. This is a fantastic book which stands on its own and can easily be read by people unfamiliar with the other John Bailey novels. I had an exceptional time reading State of Fear and it is really worth checking out.
Ayliffe works a lot of fun elements into this novel that make it quite a unique read. Perhaps one of the most prominent of these is his experience and knowledge as a journalist which helps to produce a very Australian centric view of the events that are being depicted. For example, Ayliffe includes a very detailed and compelling look at radical Islamic terrorism and how it is occurring both in Australia and in the wider world, particularly England. Using several real-life Australian cases as basis, Ayliffe manages to expose and explore the heart of the issue, and he paints a fair and captivating picture of how individuals are lured into radical Islam as well as the consequences of their actions. There are some very intriguing and powerful discussions included within this novel, especially around how the Islamic and migrant community in Australia feels isolated and prejudiced against, and I really appreciated the compelling inclusion in the novel.
Other intriguing elements contained within State of Fear include Ayliffe’s experiences with modern media and how journalist stories are produced and distributed. There are some fascinating and fun journalistic scenes contained within this novel, and you have to assume that the protagonist’s extremely negative views about the swing to online social media based journalism has to reflect some of the author’s personal feelings. Another great feature of this novel was the way in which Ayliffe once again used his novel to highlight the city of Sydney. While a good portion of this novel is set in London (which Ayliffe also does a great job portraying), the scenes set within Sydney are a particular highlight. The author really dives into showcasing this city, with the protagonist visiting several real-life suburbs and locations throughout the course of the book, distributing local knowledge as he goes. As a result, this book is filled with some fun references that locals and Sydneysiders will really appreciate, and I enjoyed how Ayliffe spent the time to write a love letter to his city.
In addition to a fantastic story and excellent setting, Ayliffe also ensures that State of Fear is loaded with some complex and memorable characters. The most prominent of these is series main protagonist and primary point of view character John Bailey. Bailey is an outstanding veteran reporting character, and Ayliffe portrays him as a broken older news hound who is trying to balance his addictive career with holding onto his family. This protagonist is the very definition of a damaged character, as he has experienced great trauma, both psychical and emotional, over the years thanks to his work as a war correspondent. Despite this trauma, Bailey has experienced some major growth since the first book in the series, mainly thanks to the actions of major people in his life, and he is now a much more functional human being, allowing the reader to really connect with his struggles and damage. Unfortunately, the events of this novel really hit him hard, as he experiences fresh pain while also revisiting his traumatic past through a series of dark flashbacks. Despite this, Bailey keeps moving forward trying to solve the case, and it was great to see his determination and resolve, even under the worse of circumstances. The ending of the novel is pretty bad for Bailey, and he goes through some tragic moments that will no doubt rock him for the rest of the series. All of this makes for an incredible central protagonist, and readers will fall in love with this damaged and compelling character.
Aside from Bailey, State of Fear also contains several great supporting characters, most of whom are holdovers from The Greater Good, and who find themselves in all sorts of trouble in this book. The most prominent of these is Bailey’s romantic partner, Detective Chief Inspector Sharon Dexter, who serves as a secondary point-of-view protagonist for parts of the book. Dexter is a tough, no-nonsense cop whose past with Bailey led to a romantic relationship in the first book. Despite having a very complex and unusual relationship with Bailey, Dexter proves to be an excellent supporting character, acting as the sensible and official support to Bailey who tries to keep him out of trouble. While she has a bit of a cold exterior, especially when Bailey stuffs up or lies to her, Dexter is another character the reader can easily get attached to, and her involvement in the story is quite essentially the overall powerful narrative.
I also quite liked the inclusion of Bailey’s editor, Gerald Summers, another aging newsman who serves as Bailey’s emotional rock and best friend and who has an amazing run in this book. Gerald is an outstanding and loveable character, which of course means he is going to suffer a little bit, so prepare yourself for that. You also have to like Ronnie Johnson, the maverick CIA agent who spends most of his time living on Bailey’s couch, but who proves to be an effective and very dangerous operative when he needs to. Ronnie has been a favourite character of mine ever since the first book (I mean, he kills an Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt style), and he does some cool things in this second novel. Finally, I felt that Mustafa al-Baghdadi was a pretty good overarching antagonist for State of Fear. Ayliffe did a good job portraying a manipulative religious zealot with grand plans for vengeance and the advancement of his cause. Despite being hidden for most of the book, this character contains a great deal of menace, and I really enjoyed the sinister flashback sequences that featured him and Bailey. I did think that some of his reasons for vengeance on Bailey were a bit weak (I mean, he had to know that the first thing Bailey was going to do when freed was to share what he knew with the Americans), but he was an overall great villain with major impacts on the narrative. Each of these characters were well written and established, and I felt that their combined narratives really improved this fantastic novel.
State of Fear by Tim Ayliffe was an outstanding and captivating read that presents a powerful and moving adventure of journalist John Bailey. Containing an intense narrative about terrorism, some unique elements and amazing characters, State of Fear is an excellent read which swiftly grabs the reader’s attention and refuses to let them go. I had an incredible time reading this novel and I am still kicking myself for taking so long to check it out. I have already read the third entry in the John Bailey series, The Enemy Within, and I am hoping to get a review out for it soon.