With a killer new debut, The Break Line on the horizon, (available 1/29/2019) through Berkley Publishing. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with James Brabazon and talk about his new novel, his protagonist Max McLean, and give all of you a chance to get to know this awesome new author.
Be sure to follow James on Twitter – @James_Brabazon he loves to interact with his readers and fans.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your career?
OK – you asked! I come from an Anglo-Irish family, and a long line of soldiers and (mis)adventurers. I started off my career as a photographer, and – inspired by the military careers of my grandparents – very quickly started to specialize in reportage, features and conflict… which in turn led to filming, and not photographing, the places I went to. Instead of writing the stories that went with my photos, I began to write the scripts that went with my video. I started making films for the BBC, and then the UK broadcaster Channel 4, who I’ve worked with for many years. I’ve also made films for HBO, Discovery, Fusion and others. I’ve spent a lot of time in West Africa over the years and filmed the civil war in Liberia extensively – about which I wrote a memoir a few years ago. A lot – but by no means all – of the work I’ve done has involved filming on various frontlines (including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Congo, Kosovo, etc) and sometimes documenting close quarter fighting and human rights abuses. In Liberia, for example, I filmed multiple executions, torture and even cannibalism.
THE BREAK LINE is my first novel, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a work of pure fiction, so now I guess you could say that I’m a professional liar…
Who is Max McLean? Did you draw inspiration from anyone real or fictional when creating this character?
Max McLean is an Irish sniper, assassin and spy who works for the British Government. He’s part of a small black ops unit called UKN, who do the off-the-books work that the British security services can’t be seen to do. He’s a trained soldier, but entirely deniable. If he gets caught, no one will ever even acknowledge him, never mind come to his rescue. He has a strong internal voice; and a keen awareness of what he sees as Right and Wrong. But above all, he’s a killer, and all too aware of his own psychopathy.
It’s easier to tell you who Max isn’t: me. I’m not a soldier, and had neither the discipline nor, frankly, the guts to be one. But over the years I have met a lot of mercenaries, special forces operators, agents, assets, spooks and psychos who have all contributed a little to creating Max McLean. And the UKN, by the way, exists. It’s not called by that name that anymore, and it doesn’t function quite like it’s portrayed in THE BREAK LINE, but it’s real all right.
What’s next for Max?
I’m currently writing the next installment of Max’s adventures. It’s not a sequel as such, but it starts up pretty much where THE BREAK LINE left off. This time he’s not so much given a mission, as choosing one for himself. Of course, nothing goes according to plan.
The Break Line has a lot of action and a lot of moving parts, but one particular twist no one will see coming in my opinion. Without giving away any spoilers, can we expect something similar in the follow up?
Oh yes! And then some. It’s super high-octane and nothing is ever as it seems. Max is standing in forest of smoke and mirrors with, as usual, no idea at first who the enemy really is – or why.
Who can you picture playing Max if it were to get picked up for a movie?
Jason O’Mara (@jason_omara) read the audiobook so absolutely brilliantly that Max’s voice is now his in my head. I think he’s a terrific actor and I’d LOVE to see him play Max. I think he’d rip the nuts off it.
What are the last three books you’ve read?
For those that don’t know, James resides in the United Kingdom. Any chance for a state side visit for some book signings?
Speak to Berkley! I would like that very much.
(If you’d like to see James come to the States, let @BerkleyPub know)
Any last words?
“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…”
Our review for ‘The Break Line’
The Break Line introduces to the world Max McLean. He works for an organization called “the Unknown,” but because any intelligence organization cannot function without a three-letter acronym, much like the alphabet soup that is the American federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies. “The-Unknown” became the UKN. Their job is to do the jobs no one else could be seen doing, because officially, they do not exist. Max is known as the man that gets the job done!
The Break Line has a little bit of a slow start, taking it’s time to introduce characters and avoiding any conflict. Many hints are made into the history of the protagonist, and you’re left feeling anxious to see just what he is capable of. However, once engagement into combat is made in the first dispute, it does not stop. The action continues and more than makes up for the lack of excitement early in the book. The location is West Africa. There, Max is forced to deal with a CIA operative that is posing as a CDC (Center for Disease Control) employee. A number of Russian Spetsnaz soldiers, (Russian Special Forces). Local rebels, road blocks, machine gun fire from a PK Machine gun (Russian 7.62 mm caliber machine gun), grenades, machetes, and of course the main threat, which I will not spoil here, but let me tell you, this threat is deadly. He deals with each one of those obstacles in a number of ways, which all account for his training, experience, and establish just how dangerous he is. The Break Line has many surprises and twists I didn’t see coming, but one that totally caught me by surprise, I had to do a double take and read it again.
The main supporting character is Robert, a local who is hired by the British government as a driver for Max, a translator and a beer drinking “brother” (self-description) who is scared shitless but manages to come through when he is needed most. He and his wife, Juliet get dragged into the drama that ensues and barely make it out in one piece. Only by the grace of Max’s quick thinking and skill do they make it out alive. Max’s personal thoughts on one situation when he was forced to not only kill the bad guys but worry about Robert and Juliet was that they slowed him down. If he were on his own, “none of the shooters chasing them would have left alive.”
Max’s personality and views are established early on. The second to last sentence in the Prologue establishes just who we’re dealing with here. A killer. However, we soon learn that he doesn’t follow blind orders. He questions them and reacts appropriately if he doesn’t agree. Basically, we learn that Max has a conscious. He also has a set of skills acquired over a 23-year career as an assassin that are deadly and is sure to climb the ranks among the best of them, including Alex Hawke, Dewey Andreas, or Jack Reacher. I mentioned once the action starts, it does not let up for second. That action comes from Max in the form of: hand to hand combat, fighting with a blade, shooting, long distance as a sniper and close quarter battle with a pistol, (at which he is very precise). Parachuting, driving skills, including giving someone proper directions on driving technique during a chase and shootout. He uses his lip-reading skills, he can hold his breath for a long time. At one point, he infiltrates the enemy camp and gets medical aid from a nurse. Max is a formidable opponent and a new action hero in the thriller genre that I’m hoping will become an annual read. With his story established, I’m hoping the next book picks up where this one left off, and we see the action from Max early in the book.
James Brabazon brings a unique perspective to the thriller genre, as a combat journalist he got to see up close and personal how war is waged, from both sides of the conflict. On some instances, being face to face with the enemy. His biography below reads much like a protagonist in a thriller. I very much enjoyed The Break Line and look forward to more from James in the future.
Author: James Brabazon
Pages: 354 Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley Publishing
Release Date: January 29, 2019
Follow James on Twitter: @James_Brabazon
James Brabazon’s notable work:
In February 2002, British journalist James Brabazon set out to travel with guerrilla forces into Liberia to show the world what was happening in that war-torn country. To protect him, he hired Nick du Toit, a former South African Defence Force soldier who had fought in conflicts across Africa for over three decades. What follows is an incredible behind-the-scenes account of the Liberian rebels—known as the LURD—as they attempt to seize control of the country from government troops led by President Charles Taylor.
In this gripping narrative, James Brabazon paints a brilliant portrait of the chaos that tore West Africa apart: nations run by warlords and kleptocrats, rebels fighting to displace them, ordinary people caught in the crossfire—and everywhere adventurers and mercenaries operating in war’s dark shadows. It is a brutally honest book about what it takes to be a journalist, survivor, and friend in this morally corrosive crucible.
“Liberia, a nation burdened by its past. America, a nation with no memory at all.” In Liberia, the summer of 2003 was pure insanity. A rebel army attempts to overthrow a government run by an indicted war criminal. Two armies engage in the final battle of a decade long civil war. Hundreds of innocent civilians die from mortar shells launched from afar and thousands more suffer hunger while the soldiers, mostly teenagers, keep the capital city under siege. The nation prays that America, the world’s sole superpower, will put an end to the violence. Conceived in Washington in the early 1800s, its constitution written at Harvard, its founding fathers freed slaves who returned to Africa, Liberia is the one country in the world worthy of the title, Made in America. By the year 2000, Liberia, once considered the gem of Africa, was ranked last in the world for quality of life
About James Brabazon
James Brabazon is an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker. Based in the UK, he has travelled to over 70 countries – investigating, filming and directing in the world’s most hostile environments. He is the author of the international bestseller My Friend the Mercenary, a memoir recounting his experiences of the Liberian civil war and the Equatorial Guinea coup plot, published by Canongate. His debut novel, the thriller The Break Line is be published by Michael Joseph (PRH UK 2018) and Berkley (PRH US 2019). He recently commissioned the 35th series of Channel 4’s flagship current affairs series Unreported World (2018). James oversees security protocols for the Channel’s high risk deployments.
James spent a year as the commissioning editor for the Foreign Film Fund, Channel 4 News (2015-2016). In November 2015 he was in the Foreign Press Association’s News Story of the Year award-winning team for Channel 4’s ground-breaking investigation Tracking Down Macedonia’s Migrant Kidnap Gang. He commissioned Syrian camerawoman Waad Al-Kateab’s British television debut series Inside Aleppo which won multiple honours, including 4 Royal Television society awards.
He recently produced and directed The Traffickers: Guns (Lightbox for Fusion, 2016) – an hour-long documentary investigating the illegal trade in weapons between the USA Central America.
James first gained international profile as the only journalist to film the Liberian LURD rebel group fighting to overthrow President Charles Taylor. He spent over six months travelling with the rebels in Liberia on the multiple award-winning documentary projects Liberia: A Journey Without Maps (2002: BBC2, SABC, CNN) and Liberia: An Uncivil War (2003: Discovery, BBC4).
James read history at the University of Cambridge (1991–94) and subsequently developed his career in photojournalism as a contributing reportage photographer for Katz Pictures in London and Gamma Press Images in Paris. From 1999 to 2002 he worked as a television news producer with Nairobi-based television agency Camerapix in Eritrea, Kenya and Zimbabwe, producing long and short form packages (BBC, SKY, TVNZ, ABC, CNN, SABC).
Since 2002 he has worked on independent commissions with Discovery (The World’s Most Dangerous Places, Gabriel Films 2002–04); BBC2, for whom he made the BAFTA- and Grierson-nominated four-part current affairs series The Violent Coast in West Africa (2003–04); Channel 4, where he made twenty-two films in the critically acclaimed Unreported World series (2004–15) and was appointed the strand’s Deputy Series Editor (2008–09); and Dispatches (2005–12), where he has made five films.
At Unreported World, James has made films in locations including Somalia (featuring an exclusive interview with a senior al-Qaeda commander); India (covering the fight between Maoist guerrillas, indigenous people and mining companies over land rights); Ivory Coast (documenting the violent struggle to control the international cocoa harvest); Colombia (exploring the mechanics of the trade in cocaine to the USA); Cameroon (examining the connections between the illegal trade in bushmeat and zoonotic viruses); Papua New Guinea (investigating violence fuelled by the narcotics trade with Australia); and Syria, filming a volunteer doctor in the frontline town of Salma, in Latakia; and the last days of the siege of Kobani for the RTS Award-nominated film The City that Beat ISIS (2015).
For Channel 4’s Dispatches series, James has filmed and directed unique material with US troops in Baghdad (Iraq: The Reckoning, Juniper 2005) for which he gained a second BAFTA nomination; reported the inside story of the planned coup in Equatorial Guinea (My Friend the Mercenary, Hardcash 2005); investigated social and political turmoil in Paris and Birmingham during the Paris riots (Paris in Flames, Mentorn 2005); told the inside story of BP’s controversial operations in Alaska and Azerbaijan and political connections in Britain (In Deep Water, Fresh One 2010–11); investigated the finances of former Prime Minister Tony Blair in Britain, Kuwait and Palestine (The Wonderful World of Tony Blair, Blast Films 2011); and exposed the relationship between British aid money and human rights abuses in Rwanda (Where Has Your Aid Money Gone? October Films 2012).
James produced the Academy Award shortlisted and double EMMY-nominated feature documentary Which Way Is The Frontline From Here? (Goldcrest Films for HBO, 2013), which tells the life story of his friend and colleague the photographer Tim Hetherington, who was killed while working in Libya in April 2011.
James was awarded the IDA Courage Under Fire Award 2004 and the Rory Peck Trust Sony International Impact Award 2003. His work in Liberia won many international accolades including the Rory Peck Trust Freelancer’s Choice Award 2003; the Special Jury Award IDFA 2004 and two EMMY nominations. James’s films have provoked major international political investigations in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Jamaica.
James lectures on the ethics and practicalities of journalism in hostile environments at universities across Britain. His company, Brabazon Media, has an ongoing contract to provide Camera, Edit and Risk Assessment and Security Protocol Awareness Training for Channel 4’s Dispatches Investigative Journalism Trainee Scheme.