The Defector

Mark Chisnell


Lycetta Press, October 2009, 312 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-9828890-1-5

Genre: Thriller

Subgenre: Action
Reviewed: 11/22/2011

Reviewed by: Mark McKenna

Book Cover


I had tried to sleep, but it was hopeless.

I gazed around the cabin, dark, the blinds pulled down. The only light was the flicker of the wordless movie on the screen. The only sound the all-encompassing roar of the jet engines. I glanced at my watch, four hours to Sydney. By the time we landed it would be more than a day since Janac's flunkeys had hauled me out of bed. And every second of it had been spent wound up the max. I tried to concentrate on the decision I had made and the new problems it presented.

The plan had been simple. Do as I was told. Get through customs if I could, drop off the drugs and then get the hell out of there. That was the decision Janac wanted me to make, I'd been all set to play the defector -- till I saw Kate. But now . . .? I just couldn't do it. I had to try something, I couldn't let her see me get shot or arrested as a smuggler. Because I knew I didn't stand a bat's chance in hell of making it through customs. Apart from the normal risks, I was known by name and face to an Australian narc. I had no chance. It ended for me in death or jail. But at least I could make Kate believe I was trying to do the right thing when I went down.



Martin Cormac is a man on the run -- from himself. Seven months earlier, Cormac was involved (read: responsible) for a highway accident in which eighteen people died. He slowly loses his grip, and in the process, his job as an investment banker. As The Defector begins, Martin Cormac is drinking his way through a series of sleazy bars on the resort island Ko Sumui, in the Gulf of Thailand.

Cormac is rescued in a bar fight by a mysterious figure named Janac, an American drug dealer with a dark CIA past and a psychological need to test people under the harshest conditions. Janac's test, administered in a series of life-and-death encounters, is a famous psychological conundrum called the "Prisonerís Dilemma." Two prisoners are given a choiceóto inform, or not to inform, on each other. If they rat each other out, they each get three-year sentences. If neither does, they get one-year sentences. But if one rats and the other doesn't--the ratter goes free and the rattee gets five years.

Viewing the two prisoners as a system, it would be most advantageous to cooperate and receive a one-year sentence. But the promise of going free is always dangling in front of each prisoner--making a three-year sentence the most probable outcome. Unless . . .

Janac ensnares Martin Cormac in his criminal drug organization, but Cormac resists, secretly informing on Janac. In terms of the Prisonerís Dilemma, he refuses to cooperate (choosing good over evil) and winds up paying a price. What that price is--and how Martin Cormac and his friends come to pay it--forms the armature of this philosophical action / thriller.

As the scene shifts from the isle of Ko Sumui, to Sydney, to the high seas, the tension ratchets up while the romance sputters along. Eventually more and more innocent victims are dragged into the Cormac / Janac continuum resulting in a small, tragic society forced to play Prisoner's Dilemma in the real world, rather than in the safe harbor of the realm of thought.

The Defector is an action thriller written by Mark Chisnell.



Author Mark Chisnell has a background in competitive sailing, degrees in physics and philosophy and (one suspects) a mixologist's degree buried in his Curriculum Vitae. At any rate, he knows his way around a louche bar equally as well as a high-tech racing yacht.

In Martin Cormac, Chisnell has created a complex anti-hero, a man forced to come to grips with his past through his present interactions with a psychopath. While this drama is being played out, Martin Cormac also is given the gift of a second chance with the woman of his dreams, the lovely Kate. Kate's current boyfriend, Scott, is also forced into playing Prisoner's Dilemma, adding to the stakes. Itís winner take all for Martin Cormac: his life--and the love of his life.

The Defector is smoothly written and reasonably well-plotted, making the ensnarement of Martin Cormac both credible and terrifying. Sometimes bizarre people can just work their way into your life. The next thing you know it's restraining order time--or in Martin Cormac's case--chased-on-the-high-seas-by-a-psychopath time.

I always appreciate writing that expands a genre, taking the reader somewhere new. In basing The Defector on a philosophical thought-experiment, Mark Chisnell has breathed new life into the formulaic thriller world. I recommend his book as a taut and gripping voyage through darkness into  . . . well, if not redemption, at least a sense of making peace with the past and having hope for the future. It was a pleasure to read a thriller in which some of the conflict was physical, some romantic, and some took place on the battlefield of competing philosophies. 

I rated this book a 9 out of 10.

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