War correspondent Brabazon’s debut novel, The Break Line (Berkley, Jan.), takes black ops soldier Max McLean to Sierra Leone.
Why do you use speculative scientific elements that are more likely to be found in the pages of comic books or on the screen?
I grew up on a diet of 2000 AD, Battle, and role-playing games like Call of Cthulhu, so from a very early age, I’ve always had a deep fascination with the monstrous, the macabre, and the exaggerated action of comic strips. The ground where myth and nature and cryptozoology intersect has been a fertile one for writers since antiquity. I’m also a filmmaker, so it’s natural for me to think in terms of set-piece scenes and ultravisual sequences.
You write convincingly of black ops, spycraft, car chases, and gunfights. How much of that is firsthand?
Out of necessity in West Africa, I worked closely with U.S. intelligence and encountered many Israeli and South African mercenaries and operators. Through the work I’ve done, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and become friends with British Special Forces and Intelligence operators as well. So readers can be confident that while The Break Line is a work of fiction, all the details are correct, and the agencies real. I’ve spent a lot of my career under fire, often at very close quarters—though, of course, unlike Max McLean, I was shooting with a camera, not a weapon.
Does the presence of British, American, Russian, and Israeli characters in your book mirror the real-world situation in West Africa?
One hundred percent. The Americans have a highly developed intelligence network in Africa—led strongly by the Pentagon and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Their penetration and resources are far superior to the British government’s. In West Africa, the Russians are strong in Guinea. The Chinese are in Sierra Leone. And the Israelis? They’re everywhere.
What sort of research did you do to provide readers with convincing descriptions of virological science?
As a journalist, I was familiar with the Ebola story from West Africa, although I’d never worked on it personally. Friends and colleagues had, though, so I had a deep pool of firsthand experience upon which to draw. A few years ago, I made a film in Cameroon about zoonotic viruses. I was fortunate enough to interview a virologist about the discovery of Simian Foamy Virus and get the inside track on what he termed Central Africa’s “virus warehouse.” The further humans go into the forest, the less we know about what we might find.