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.

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Book Review: Turbulent Wake

“No one wants to admit that we are all fucked up, that we are all imperfect, vain, frightened, too easily flattered, so readily tempted. Christ, I sound like the Old Testament.
And yet we go on with our fictions, our made-up lives, trying to mirror some television or internet ideal of who we should be, what we should look like, how we should act.”

Turbulent Wake, by Paul E. Hardisty, opens in Canada where a young boy, Warren, is lying in bed hoping for the snowfall that will transform his neighbourhood. He is ‘warm and safe and excited’. He is at the beginning of a long life that he will recount in snapshots, explaining its course and decisions made with hindsight.

Each chapter tells the story of a key event in the boy’s life between his birth and his death. Interspersed with these are the reflections of his estranged son, Ethan, who is reading through the manuscripts, found in a house left to him in his father’s will. As each story is finished lingering questions are answered about Ethan’s childhood and the father he has long resented for repeatedly sending him away.

“You never really know anyone. Especially the ones you love.”

Ethan is an insurance salesman in his forties whose career has stalled. He lives in London, is divorced from the professionally successful Maria and hated by their ten year old daughter. He knows that his life is a mess but not how to fix it. He feels emasculated. Maria wanted a man who would willingly help with childcare and housework. She regards Ethan as selfish for not fitting her ideal.

“Everything now seems an exercise in control – hold back my emotions, rein in my temper, restrain the physical side of myself, that part of me that always felt the most natural, the most real.”

Warren led a life that took him around the world. As a child, his family moved regularly. Growing up, he wanted to be: a soldier, a pilot, a writer. Eventually he ends up an engineer. Warren survives horrific incidents and personal tragedy. He tries to be a good person but often fails. Around him he observes a world being increasingly ravaged and reflects on the effects of man’s egocentric behaviour.

“the forces of greed were inestimably more powerful than the endeavours of any one person.”

“he knew that none of these good and perfect places was safe from the cutting and mining and the plunder”

“what was irreplaceable had become inconsequential”

In learning of Warren’s personal life, viewing him through a lens few children are capable of accepting is their parent, Ethan’s life view subtly shifts. Warren comes to question how anyone can channel their actions to benefit those left behind given their and societies’ imperfections. He acknowledges his mistakes, recognised in hindsight. Warren speaks to Ethan through his writing as doing so in person would have required his son to listen without prejudice – something loved ones, those directly affected, can rarely achieve.

Neither Warren nor Ethan are inherently bad men but they struggle to fit into the expectations of the women and children in their lives. An underlying thread throughout the story is the change in how men are required to be.

“All he wanted to do was make her proud, be worthy of her. He wanted to change. That’s the secret. You have to want to change. The only thing was, she couldn’t change him enough.”

“who is this guy she thought she wanted? Be all the things a traditional man is supposed to be: strong, protective, financially secure, generous, all that shit. But she also wanted me to be, what can I say? […] I was never the man she thought I could become”

The writing is succinct and absorbing with thought-provoking themes and threads. Although many of these could be viewed as dispiriting there is a hopefulness in the direction they take. Pleasure and appreciation in the natural world is granted significance despite how it is being stripped and despoiled. There is a reminder that, whatever mistakes have been made, while there is life there is a chance to do better moving forward.

An affecting story of relationships and the inherent difficulty in openly communicating with those whose opinion is valued. More than this though it is a wider exploration of what position an individual chooses to occupy in their world, and the legacy this leaves for those who come after.

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

Why I Write Fiction – Guest Post by Paul E. Hardisty

Paul Hardisty

 

Paul E. Hardisty is the author of ‘The Abrupt Physics of Dying’ (which I review here) and ‘The Evolution of Fear’ (which I review here). I am delighted to be hosting this considered and insightful guest post from such a talented thriller writer. He brings troublespots to life and reminds the reader of the human cost of conflict whilst never stinting on the page turning quality of his prose.

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As a professional environmental scientist and engineer, I have been lucky enough over the course of my career to work pretty much all over the world. Unfortunately, I have also been unlucky enough to have witnessed during that time a catalogue of what can only be called crimes against nature and humanity that still gives me nightmares. Over the course of over three decades I have seen, photographed, studied, sampled, interviewed and reported on environmental and social disasters large and small. And I can honestly say that the one common factor in all of them was greed. The other was that this kind of destruction is usually a driver for human conflict – from community protests all the way to full blown civil war.

And during all of this, I have written. For clients, reports. For scientists, peer reviewed journal papers. For students, textbooks on how to clean up toxic waste spills. For decision-makers, books on how to make better more sustainable decisions that allow greed (profit) to be balanced against better social and environmental outcomes. For the public, newspaper and magazine articles and blog posts that bring to light what is going on out there: whole villages drowned by toxic sludge; elephants and rhinos now facing extinction in Africa within 30 years if poaching cannot be controlled; oceans so overfished that more than one third of all commercial fish stocks have completely collapsed; native communities displaced and marginalised to make way for resource extraction; a climate changing so quickly that it will disrupt our future in ways we cannot even imagine if we don’t put the brakes down hard on fossil fuel burning and deforestation, soon. A list that overwhelms people, turns them off. It’s just too much.

All of this time, I have been writing about facts.

And I have discovered along the way that facts are not truth. Truth can only be seen through the eyes of people, and people need to experience those facts for them to become truth. And so, I write fiction. By putting the reader into the story, by having them share the experiences of the characters, they can make up their own minds what they think and feel about it. And this, then, becomes, their own truth. Science actually backs this up. There has been a huge amount of research done on why people believe certain things, and disbelieve others, when presented with the same set of facts. People make decisions based on more than just knowledge. Rules and values play an equally important role. The rules that society sets for them and they set for themselves, and the values they hold dear. Together, these could be called ‘worldview.’ And it has been shown again and again that facts alone can’t change world view. But experience can.

And so, I have turned to fiction. I write about things that I care about, like the plight of the oceans and the disappearance of species and landscapes, and how those things affect the poorest and most vulnerable people, in all parts of the world. I try to put those places and those people into the stories, and bring them to life so the reader can feel as if they are there, and experience the things that the characters are living through. I try to make the stories as realistic as possible – real places, real events, real science. But I don’t preach. I invite the reader to live the story and decide for themselves. Because there are always so many perspectives, so many sides to these stories. And invariably, there are no absolutes. Just shades of all of us struggling with our own hopes and desires and fears, and trying to do the best we can as ultimately imperfect beings.

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This post is a stop on the Evolution of Fear blog tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

Evolution of Fear Blog tour    Evolution of Fear Vis 1 copy

The Evolution of Fear is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

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Book Review: The Evolution of Fear

Evolution of Fear Vis 1 copy

The Evolution of Fear, by Paul E. Hardisty, is a sequel to The Abrupt Physics of Dying which I reviewed here. Following the protagonist’s exploits in the Yemen, Claymore Straker is now a fugitive both from the law and from those who believe they are above the law. He has acquired powerful enemies and has a price on his head. The book opens with a shoot out at his hideaway in Cornwall. His safety has been compromised and he is no longer sure who he can trust.

Clay remains the all action hero, able to keep going despite the dangers and a succession of injuries. His aim is to track down and keep safe his lover, Rania. She has her own agenda and is unwilling to forgo what she considers important work. Clay seeks her out only to lose her again. She becomes a pawn in a treacherous game.

The action moves from England to Turkey and on to Cyprus where much of the intrigue is played out. Mercenaries from Clay’s past life are working with businessmen and politicians on both sides of this troubled island. To help Rania he must confront the situation on the island, and also deal with those seeking to avenge past deeds.

On Cyprus trouble is brewing between environmentalists determined to protect the local turtle breeding grounds and developers who wish to exploit the pristine white sands for lucrative tourism. Where money is to be made there is, as always, corruption. Rania has been working with a local researcher, Hope, to publicise the source and scale of the political duplicity. When Clay turns to Hope for assistance in finding Rania he uncovers more about his beloved than he bargained for.

The writing is taut and compelling throughout. This is a fine action thriller that also impels the reader to consider big issues from the real world. Those who enjoy comfort and easy access to places of natural beauty are complicit in the destruction of that which made it beautiful. Those who believe the words of politicians are naive.

I was emotionally hooked by the imagery suffering a sense of loss as profit was pursued despite the cost. It is testament to the skill of the author that he can convey a difficult message whilst never compromising on the pace or excitement. Read this for the pleasure of an edge of your seat adventure. You will be offered so much more.

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

Book Review: The Abrupt Physics of Dying

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The Abrupt Physics of Dying, by Paul E. Hardisty, is an action packed contemporary thriller set in the Yemen. It explores the hubris of the wealthy and powerful who believe that they are above the law. It lays bare the secretive and incestuous relationships between politicians and big business.

The protagonist, Clay Straker, is a contract engineer working for an oil company. His job involves getting environmental reports written and passed, often by nefarious means, in order that his clients may be seen to be complying with international regulations as regards local water supplies and air quality, regulations intended to provide safeguards for the indigenous population.

When Clay is forced at gunpoint to confront the reality of his client’s operations he finds himself a pawn in a dangerous game. With civil war breaking out around him he uncovers lies and secrets that are costing lives. The more layers he penetrates in the various organisations with which he is forced to become involved the harder it becomes to trust anyone.

Clay is a typical all action hero with a murky past. He is ex-military and his training enables him to survive violent encounters with those sent to stop him. He has the inevitable sexual liaison with an attractive woman who he probably shouldn’t trust but talks openly with anyway. So far, so predictable.

Where this book stands out is the fantastic writing, the stunning imagery. The author evokes the heat, the fear, the colour, smells, and tension of each scene. I may not have warmed to the characters but I felt that I was there with them, feeling what they were feeling and thereby gaining a better understanding of why they acted as they did.

Despite the shouting and gun waving I felt sympathy for the so called terrorists and extremists whose land was being plundered, something that the western media does what it can to suppress. Within the plot the reader is shown how populations are manipulated into supporting damaging causes for economic benefit. Distant races are dehumanised and presented as a threat. Those who do nothing become passively complicit in allowing the rape of lands to sustain the power and influence of the few.

These messages, whilst uncomfortable to consider, are a part of the plot but do not overshadow what is a fast moving and compelling story. The intrigue is gripping, the characters complex, the denouement satisfying.

This is the first book released by Orenda Books. It is an impressive debut for both author and publisher.

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