Today it is my turn on the Blog-Tour for Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul E. Hardisty. It is a fascinating read, and yet also one that may make you sit back and ponder it, especially when you read the historical note and acknowledgement at the end of the book.
About the Author
For the past 30 years, Paul E Hardisty has worked all over the world as an engineer and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, and rehabilitated village water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Yemen in 1994 as the civil war broke out, and in Ethiopia as the Mengistu regime fell. In 2015, his first novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, was published to great acclaim – it was shortlisted for the CWA Creasy dagger award for best thriller or crime novel in 2015, and was one of the London Telegraph’s 2015 crime books of the year.
Lee Child called the sequel, The Evolution of Fear: “A solid, meaty thriller. Hardisty is a fine writer and Claymore Straker is a great lead character.” Paul is currently working on the third Claymore Straker novel, a prequel set in Apartheid era South Africa. One of his short stories, Blue Nile, will shortly appear in an anthology entitled “Sunshine Noir”. He lives in Western Australia, and is a keen outdoorsman, triathlete, and martial artist.
About the book
Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier. It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make.
Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed. Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction.
When it suddenly dawns on you that the story is more than just a fictional plot or the creative imagination of the author in question. It’s actually worse when you realise that even the most talented weaver of stories hasn’t got a thing on the actual depths of inhumane behaviour and unimaginable cruelty real humans are capable of.
South Africa has a very turbulent and volatile history, especially events that took place in the 20th century. I think, like many countries, there is plenty of revisionism going on and selective amnesia seems to be a problem. Apartheid, genocide, land dispossession and the South African Police, who were little more than a murder squad during certain periods of time in history.
Claymore Straker is an interesting character. He doesn’t try to excuse his actions, in fact he feels such immense guilt that he finds it difficult to find any peace at all. Clay is a soldier, a killer who follows orders, and yet he is also a man with a conscience. He often tries to do the right thing, despite putting himself and others in danger.
On a side note, I really enjoyed the banter and relationship between Clay and Eben. The two of them are on the same wavelength when it comes to justice. Eben just tends to be a wee bit more reckless. They have a bond, a brotherhood, which is often formed between soldiers in dangerous situations.
Hardisty has only taken a small section of that history and of the political unrest of South Africa and combined it with a fast-paced and heart-wrenching plot. It is also brutal, violent and not for the faint of heart. At the same time the author has managed to create characters, who evoke empathy, which is quite extraordinary considering the hardcore events that unfold around them.
Reconciliation for the Dead isn’t just a story, it is a stark reminder of South African history. Without delving too much into the plot and revealing any spoilers it is a cracking read, and it is and was a shocking plan. What is even more disgraceful is the real lack of restitution, despite the reconciliation. Criminals who deserved a firing squad walked away scot-free.
When it comes to military thrillers authors often can’t find the right balance between the cold hard facts of war, weaponry, logistics and the storytelling. Well, let me tell you Hardisty doesn’t have any problem at all in that regard. He strikes exactly the right tone in both areas. This is a captivating and poignant read, and yet it is also one that made my soul weep for humanity.