In the near future world leaders gather in Dubai to discuss the multiple crises facing the planet: environmental degradation, climate change and economic collapse. But the man designated to give the opening address, a doctor and humanitarian worker, instead threatens the audience with explosives and, along with other armed terrorists, locks down the the conference hall which turns the leaders and their respective entourages into high profile hostages. Over the next seven days the terrorists host mock trials and executions of leaders inside the hall while waiting to see if their grand demands will be met and outside people scramble for solutions.
ROTTEN GODS is a big book in both word count and scope and it could have done with being a shade smaller on both counts. It’s clear from both the story itself and the author interview incorporated at the end of the edition I read that Barron wanted to write more than a bog standard action thriller. And he has. The book does explore ideas and it does so from multiple perspectives. For example while never portraying terrorism in a positive light or condoning the practice in any way the book does do a good job of showing how some terrorists are formed out of sheer desperation and frustration at the injustices of their worlds. For me the exploration of the planet’s environmental and consumerism problems was less successful, though equally well intentioned. Some of the passages relating to these issues did cross the line into lecturing the reader and that always raises my hackles both because I read enough non-fiction about these subjects and because it takes me out of the story.
That issue aside the book offered a jolly good yarn, with loads of heart-stopping action in exotic locations and a smattering of non-standard thriller characters. Simon is an English man whose diplomat wife has inadvertently allowed herself to be seduced by one of the terrorists which has resulted in her being held hostage with the other leaders and her two daughters being kidnapped. His ensuing hunt to find the girls shows just what lengths a mild-mannered airline pilot might go to when pushed too far. Marika Hartmann is an Australian intelligence officer assigned to work with the Dubai security forces for the duration of the conference and, feeling guilty because she sensed something was amiss before the terrorists took over but did not act, she volunteers to parachute into Somalia in an effort to locate the wife of the man who led the terrorists into the Dubai conference hall. She’s a no nonsense woman who injects a bit of humour into what is otherwise a fairly grim story and is a very enjoyable character.
I can forgive début novelists for including too much in their first novel (all those ideas building up for years) and there are more than enough other elements here to show Barron’s promise as a writer of intelligent thrillers that entertain as well as make us think. In what seems to be my standard complaint I think ROTTEN GODS would have been better if it were a hundred pages shorter but books-as-doorstops do seem to be somewhat de rigueur these days. Overall though it is a solidly entertaining read, gathering pace as it goes and posing several plausible, if uncomfortable, ‘what if’ scenarios for our collective near future.
My rating: 4/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Harper Collins 
Length: 457 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: provided by the publisher for review
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