Direct Action: Slow burning, suspenseful fiction

July 7, 2020
Direct Action cover

Direct Action
By JD Svenson.
Lacuna publishing, 2019.
314pp. Available as a paperback or e-book.


Suspense is a word applied to novels we generally associate with thrillers. But, Direct Action is a slow-burning novel, with a powerful dramatic climax in the middle, and steadily builds suspense up to the very last page.

And what an ending!

The story is about the consequences of direct action: its effect on those who perform it and, even more so, on their friends.

The consequences are explored through a character study. Cressida Mitsok, a young upper-class corporate lawyer, is rising fast as she guides major projects through hurdles without conscience, in the service of her clients.

Carefully maintaining an appearance of flawless beauty, on track to marry a surgeon who expects her to decorate his arm at career functions, she has only fleeting doubts about the way things are.

Even when power stations are blown up and the electricity goes off, plunging Sydney into chaos, her moments of unease are confined to her fiancee’s expectations about her looks.

It all begins to slide, at first imperceptibly, then gathering momentum, when she is on the road, tasked with doing a favour for her boss while still working on a major construction project. The favour is to defend an environmentalist, Joanne, who blew up Liddell power station. Joanne is her boss’s daughter.

It is extraordinary to read a novel that quotes extensively from the Crimes Act and still holds you in its grip. And there is lurking humour. As Cressida reads the Act, noting the definition of sabotage includes that of a person “whose conduct causes damage to a public facility” she wonders: “Was the power station even a public facility, given it had been sold to the Chinese?”

There is a humdrum reality underlying the story, as Cressida gets to know Joanne’s friends: the reality of needing to eat, of illnesses, of relationships that are utterly different to her former world of cardboard appearances and careers.

That humdrum reality heightens the suspense. It is not a “who-dunnit?” suspense, it is embedded in the reality that the world we live in now is one of suspense.

Like it or not, aware of it or not, there is an understanding that we are all sliding, imperceptibly, but with gathering momentum, towards catastrophe. All the while we are trying to live our lives: but what does the future hold? Can we find reasons to be hopeful?

The novel ends with a startling vision that persists long after you have read the last page. That is because it has brought our world to life. Our world with a glimpse of what once seemed impossible, about to become real.

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