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.
Back in 2015 I was sent a copy of The Abrupt Physics of Dying, an eco thriller by a debut author, the CWA John Creasy Award nominee Paul E. Hardisty. It should have been the sort of book that left me cold, big action thrillers are not my thing. Instead I fell in love, both with Claymore Straker and Hardisty's writing. This love was confirmed in the follow up last year, The Evolution of Fear and I've been eagerly waiting this latest instalment since then.
Reconciliation for the Dead sees Straker returning to his South African homeland. After the events in Yemen and Cyprus he has decided it's time to confront his past and has agreed to testify before Desmond Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Although ostensibly set shortly after Cyprus, the book is actually more of a prequel, with the action set in Angola as we meet the young Claymore Straker and learn of the terrible events that lead not only to his dishonourable discharge from the army but also to the psychologically damaged man we know from the first two books. This is the book that takes us not only into Clay's dark past but also to South Africa's shameful history when their army fought Communism in neighbouring Angola in order to protect their own Apartheid regime.
As always Hardisty has written an uncompromising and brutal action thriller. He doesn't sanitize war, it's ugly and vicious, there are multiple deaths, a vicious rape and always the stench not only of blood and sweat but also of corruption.
What Hardisty also achieves though is superlative characterisation, he never sacrifices top quality character development for the complex, exciting plot. Claymore has always been a deeply engaging lead character, a tenacious justice-seeker who is prepared to take any steps both to survive and to expose the truth and yet still a man deeply tormented by the things he has seen and done. This is where we finally learn why he is so troubled, the court transcripts from his testimony a reminder that the older Straker is still desperate to atone for his past. The young Straker is forced to re-evaluate everything he knows and ultimately loses some of himself as he becomes torn between his country and the search for the truth. The secondary cast isn't forgotten either, both his allies and those who seek to harm him are vividly realised. We are finally properly introduced to Eben, the friend we first met as a horrifically injured veteran in the first book is brought to life here making his eventual fate all the more tragic. Rania appears only briefly this time, instead he meets two new female characters, Zulaika and Vivian, both strong and brave women who play pivotal roles in the story. His enemies are truly evil, as always Hardisty's research means the plot is firmly influenced by real life events and the horrific research into chemical and biological warfare makes for chilling reading. As Straker gradually reveals the truth about his past he is questioned by the various commissioners and even in these brief transcripts Hardisty has ensured that each panel member has a clear and distinct voice, we know who is sympathetic to him and who is suspicious of the role he played.
Reconciliation for the Dead is perhaps the highlight of a superb trilogy, it's a powerful and honest look at war, inhumanity, brutality and the need for forgiveness. It's a complex and engaging thriller that never forgets that the lead character is a human being who is deeply affected by the events that shape his life and lead to him taking the lives of others. My love affair continues and I look forward to Straker's next outing knowing I'm in for another another superb book at the hands of an author who is truly on top of his game.
Many thanks to the publishers for my advance copy, received in return for my honest review.
Reconciliation for the Dead will be published by Orenda Books on 30th May 2017. You can follow Orenda on Twitter as @OrendaBooks and Paul E. Hardisty as @Hardisty_Paul .