Book Review: Absolution

Absolution, by Paul E. Hardisty, is the fourth installment in the author’s Claymore Straker series. It is an all action, adrenaline fuelled thriller in which the protagonist dices with death on numerous occasions attempting to survive and protect his friends. Underlying his stream of misadventures is the question of who he can trust and the motives of every character.

The tale opens in Paris where Rania, now married and a mother to one year old Eugène, is writing in her diary. She addresses her entries to Claymore who she still loves despite leaving him. The reader learns that her husband and son have vanished. The local police investigate their disappearance and Rania finds herself under suspicion. She decides to flee to Cairo under an assumed name.

Claymore, meanwhile, is living aboard his sailboat off the coast of Zanzibar. He has befriended a local woman who lives on the island with her two children. Knowing that he is being hunted, staying in one place for any length of time is dangerous. When assassins arrive, deaths are inevitable.

Determined to find those responsible, Claymore sets sail. As he attempts to track the mercenaries, they are also tracking him. During one of their early clashes, an old acquaintance – Crowbar – appears and together they set sail for Kenya. Claymore learns of Rania’s plight and decides to travel to Cairo in order to help her, as she requested.

The trials Rania is facing are told through her diary entries, in chapters interspersed between those detailing Claymore’s escapades. Both must evade the deadly hunters without knowing who these people are or if their motives go beyond revenge. The pair have seemingly endless supplies of currency to offer as bribes but any who try to help them end up endangered. Their skills keep them alive but also draw unwanted attention.

As in the previous instalments of this series, there are environmental and political threads. Egypt in the 1990s – when the story is set – was a country ravaged by corrupt dictators whose armies were akin to the terrorists they blamed for atrocities used as reason for further suppression. Where there is civil war, there is money to be made.

The plot twists and turns as Claymore travels across Africa while Rania fights for her life in Cairo. The former uses firearms and physical endurance. The latter must rely on her cunning and wits. As their plotlines converge, the reader gains some understanding of why they are in such danger.

There are many characters to place and the action is unrelenting. Roles eventually become clearer but for much of the book the story is of: perilous encounters, life-threatening battles and challenging journeys. The author is not afraid to kill his darlings, with those who survive coming through scathed.

The tension weaves through the many threads and their interlinks. The denouement offers a reminder that righteous people can be radicalised, but that religious belief can also be a power for good. Whilst I may question if the reach of any organisation could be as effective and above the law as that depicted, it is chilling to consider how much electronic tracking is now done in clear sight and without much consideration.

This is a fine thriller offering plenty of important issues to consider without compromising the protagonist’s willingness to enact his deadly skills. No easy answers are offered in a ride that, though flexuous, remains engaging. Escapism grounded in a world that is disturbingly familiar.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Orenda.

Book Review: Reconciliation for the Dead

Reconciliation for the Dead, by Paul E. Hardisty, is the third book in the author’s Claymore Straker series of action thrillers (I review the first two books here and here). In this latest work the reader is offered the protagonist’s backstory as a young soldier in the South African army. Clay is fighting for the country he loves alongside comrades he trusts with his life, several of whom he counts as friends.

The book is told over two time periods: 1996 when Clay is being interviewed by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission about his actions fifteen years previously which resulted in his dishonourable discharge from the army; and a detailed account of these actions in 1981 when, as a twenty-one year old soldier fighting in Angola, Clay stumbles across a top secret initiative with an aim he struggles to comprehend.

As a story that depicts many of the realities for those fighting a war on the ground, the detail is often graphic and disturbing. Whilst gruesome it is never gratuitous, offering a truth too often hidden behind the facade of glorious military victory. Clay has been raised by family and society to love his country and feels proud that he is defending it against enemy states. When his loyalty is tested by the heinous actions of those he has been informed are allies, everything he has believed in until now comes under strain.

Clay has killed men, this has been his job, and he cannot suppress the revulsion he feels as the memories of each death at his hands return to haunt him. He wants to do what is right yet knows he must obey orders. He is a competent soldier with a conscience, caught up in an untenable situation.

Time and again Clay is advised by friends, ordered by his commanding officers, to walk away from and forget what he has seen. He knows that this may be a wise course of action but, with the Pandora’s box opened, his endeavours take a fatalistic direction. He understands that what he has witnessed and his subsequent reactions mean his life is forever changed.

This is a powerful and evocative reminder of the true causes of war. The writing skilfully weaves action and consequence as Clay’s decisions place him in recurring mortal danger. The gradual reveal of the aim and extent of the initiative he uncovers is based on reality. Somehow, depressingly, this was the least difficult aspect of the story to read.

Yet this is not a depressing book. It challenges the reader to accept truths about the heroism venerated by the state. It offers a reminder that, whatever else occurs, a man must always live with himself.

A stunning work of fiction that I eagerly recommend. This is an all action thriller with enough substance and bite to hold any judicious reader.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This post is a stop on the Reconciliation for the Dead Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Reconciliation for the Dead will be published by Orenda Books on 30th May 2017