You don't really expect a fast-paced action thriller to take place in the sleepy antipodean nation of New Zealand, and yet John Ling, a Malaysian-born Kiwi, has made it work.
In The Blasphemer, a Muslim author named Abraham Khan has written a very controversial book very much akin to Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses. But Khan is no Rushdie. I won't tell you why (spoilers!) but even the author himself claims the main inspiration for the character is the feminist writer, Taslima Nasrin, who is a far cry from Salman Rushdie.
It goes without saying that Khan is then targeted by extremists. Enter Maya Raines, who is assigned by the New Zealand police to protect Khan and his wife, Belinda Freeman, after a failed suicide attack almost kills them both.
John Ling then goes on to weave a fast-placed story that includes drugs, thrall-like Somalis, two hired assassins (with the names Devlin and Emmerich; see if you can catch the reference) and a mysterious man with an aim to create Mayhem and Mischief.
The action scenes are taut and written well with good detail. And with good reason. The author spent some time interviewing members of special forces, and it shows. John Ling describes the action scenes clearly and with great detail but it never feels like he is being didactic.
The other main character in the novel, that of Maya Raines, should be well received by lovers of strong female leads. She is a no-nonsense, professional operator and knows how to get her job done. She's not two dimensional either as we learn that she has had some personal trouble with her mother, Dierdre, who incidentally happens to be her supervisor in her mission.
On the whole, a great fun, fast-paced read. I can't wait to read the sequel, of which the ending of The Blasphemer strongly suggests.
The book also contains some essays and excerpts of aborted novels. The essays cover interesting topics and issues such as Shiites in Malaysia and the Arab Spring but the essays are too short and one is left wanting after reading them.
The excerpts of John Ling's aborted novels are also interesting but one gets the sense that they are only there to pad out the book. Also, if they are abandoned novels, why should the reader want to read those excerpts, because it is clear the author does not intend to finish them. If anything, these extras are not detriments to the novel and can be considered like the "Bonus Extras" in a movie DVD.
As a final note, I think it is interesting that while both Taslima Nasrin and Salman Rushdie are Muslim-turned-Atheists, Abraham Khan remains Muslim even after he publishes his book.
The Blasphemer is available on Amazon as a Kindle e-book.