When terrorists attacked the Stade de France and the Bataclan Theatre in November 2015, one Australian tradie leapt to the rescue.
Calling a mate to take over his building site, Mike (not his real name) proceeded to remotely coordinate an international rescue operation from his Melbourne living room.
Scrambling a crack team of security experts, he masterminded the seemingly impossible extraction of a hotel chain exec and his panicking family. This despite the country being in lockdown, with a no-fly zone enforced over the capital. All in a day’s work for Mike.
A former intelligence-officer-turned-tradie who was lured back into occasional, highly lucrative freelance security work, new book The Contractor details six of Mike’s high-octane missions as told to journalist, ghost writer and spy thriller novelist Mark Abernethy.
“He’s physically imposing, a former rugby league front row, and he’s also highly intelligent,” Mr Abernethy says. “He reads information in the same way long-time journalists do, in terms of where things are coming from, who’s saying that for what reason.”
Mr Abernethy met Mike at a military function through special forces connections and was intrigued by the double life of the towering man also known as the “big unit.”
“He lives this life where he builds houses, does renovations, has a ute and everything, then he goes off to do this stuff on a private basis, which a lot of retired special forces soldiers and intelligence people do,” Mr Abernethy reveals.
Indeed, a few years back, ASIO were actively recruiting tradespeople, Mr Abernethy says, and for good reason.
“Their entire professional outlook is problem solving. They are highly practical people who know how to work long hours toward a goal in a team.”
The buzz around The Contractor is so big that a sequel, At Hell’s Gate, will follow later this year.
“Someone said to me, he reads like a cross between Les Norton and Jack Reacher, which I thought was pretty funny,” Mr Abernethy chuckles.
As well as arranging the Paris escape from afar, Mike stares down impossible missions on the ground too, pursuing a crime boss in a Phnomh Penh brothel and facing off against would-be kidnappers in Islamabad in northern Pakistan.
His mission in the latter city was to prevent the kidnapping of an insurance company executive by his driver and his personal assistant, both of whom were coordinating with a powerful crime syndicate.
“My blood went cold,” Mr Abernethy says of being told of this betrayal by trusted staff members.
“One of the reasons that Mike cooperates with me is that he made me promise we would get a sense, from these books, of good not evil,” Mr Abernethy adds.
“He works in a world where people try to do the right thing for the right reasons, doing what they can to stop the bad guys.”
The Contractor is out now, published by Pan Macmillan