The Unknown Terrorist
Richard Flanagan
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Buy *The Unknown Terrorist* by Richard Flanagan online

The Unknown Terrorist
Richard Flanagan
Grove Press
336 pages
January 2008
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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A recipe for chaos: three bombs planted in a stadium in Sydney, Australia; one has-been TV journalist; a disaffected foreign drug-runner, perhaps a terrorist; and one lonely pole dancer who has an unfortunate tryst with the foreigner. Add the alphabet soup of government agencies that enforce their new laws “for the public good.” Mix well and leave uncovered in the steaming heat of Sydney’s streets.

The result is an unsavory hodgepodge of imagination run wild, exacerbated by the journalist’s inflamed rhetoric and the loss of common sense in favor of public panic and rage against an unknown threat. That all is a mistake, random associations that won’t hold up in court is not the point. This is the way such things happen; they must be cleared up so people feel reasonably secure to go about their daily business. Such circumstances would constitute a comedy of errors were not the consequences for society in jeopardy.

When pole dancer Doll (Gina Davies) meets the darkly handsome Tariq on a beach, she assumes it is a passing flirtation. But later that night, on the streets during a wild Mardi Gras parade, they meet again, retuning to his apartment. The next morning, Tariq is nowhere to be found, and the Doll returns to her neighborhood only to see his image projected repeatedly on TV screens, wanted as a terrorist suspect.

Soon other film emerges, pictures of Tariq and herself entering his building the night before, the images somewhat grainy but clear enough for the Doll to realize the gravity of her situation.

Meanwhile, the over-the-hill TV journalist, Richard Cody, seeks to boost his sagging career with an explosive expose that identifies the Doll as Tariq’s co-conspirator: The Black Widow, a series of half-truths hyped by an ever more frantic press. With the direct encouragement of the government, Cody whips the flames of fear that have gripped the city.

None of these characters are sympathetic or even remotely likeable. That’s the point - all of them are expendable and without the resources to defend themselves. In a cottage industry that has grown exponentially since 9/11, there is much to be gained, reputations to be made and much to lose should anyone admit this latest scare is a hideous mistake.

The author cynically describes the post-9/11 political climate of large cities and the brittle boundaries of Sydney society, the petty differences that divide the haves and have-nots, particularly the underbelly of the city’s dregs, rows of strip clubs that cater to every perversion, junkies on the prowl and beggars littering the street corners.

This is familiar territory for Gina, distraught by the hopelessness of her predicament; but even the anonymity of those forced to live on the edge cannot protect the Doll from her preordained fate.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2007

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