Day three of Hardisty Week and it’s time to take another look at my thoughts on Reconciliation for the Dead, book three in the Claymore Straker series by Paul E. Hardisty. This was actually the first book in the series that I read, but I fell in love with the character, the writing and the special blend of action and humanity that the book conveyed. Here’s the official bits and all you need to know.
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.
My word. What a book this is. Uncompromisingly brutal at times this is a book which cannot help but make you acknowledge the stark realities of a truly dark part of South African history. I was only a small child when this book was set and thankfully sheltered from the truth of what was happening in other parts of the world. Looking back even now it is hard to comprehend that such things have occurred in my lifetime and yet, sadly, they did.
The book itself, while ostensibly set in Claymore Straker’s present, sees most of the action actually taking place back in 1980, at a time when a young and very idealistic Straker was in the early days of his time with the army. At this stage he still believed in the cause, still believed in the facts that the South African government wanted him to believe, the doctored truth designed to protect their way of life and oppress those who supported the black population. But it is during this time, during a conflict in Angola, that Straker begins to see the truth. Forced into actions he does not wish to take and placed in the centre of a battle between the armed forces and a group of resistance fighters, Straker must choose which side he is really on, knowing that the wrong choice could cost him his life.
I will be honest and admit that even though this is the third book in the series, it is actually my first Claymore Straker book. I am not sure if this is a good or bad thing. I know it is good because I am determined now to find the time to go back and read the first two books which are both sat waiting patiently for me on my kindle. What I am not sure of, is if I will be richer or poorer for knowing the reasons behind Straker’s exile from Africa in more detail. What I do know without doubt is that this is an absolutely brilliant action thriller and totally the kind of book that had me gripped from the very start. I wanted to know about Straker, I wanted to understand his past. I wanted to know what it was that so clearly haunted him, what truth it was that he needed to set free. Hardisty has created a wonderfully three dimensional character here, so much so that even though I know little of him at the start, I was immediately drawn to him and knew I would stick with him to the bitter end.
This is not a neat and tidy novel in which good prevails over bad. If you understand anything of African history you will know that it could never be that simple. This book is actually almost depressing in its honesty, with a grim feeling of reality and authenticity in every page, every action and atrocity committed. There are some harrowing scenes in this book which may turn some people off; a scene involving a rape and also scenes of medical experimentation in which Black Africans are treated with complete contempt. Murdered at will in a senseless and at times most violent way. And it does not stop there, as any White African who supports the cause is also treated in much the same way, as Straker and his friend Eben Barstow will find to their cost. And yet, despite this honesty, it did not feel graphic or gratuitous in any way. It just felt like fact.
The pacing ebbs and flows with the action but the tension is always there, whether Straker and the troops are in combat, or it is simply Straker and Eben who are acting alone, trying to find some kind of truth in what they are seeing. Eben is already in doubt about the honesty of the war and therefore more prepared to see the wood from the trees, but Straker takes a little longer to accept the truth. It is this gradual awakening and freeing of his mind, this realisation of what the war is truly about, which leads Straker and the reader on the journey of their lifetime. This was not a book to be rushed. This is one which required time and quiet contemplation as you read. You need to approach it with eyes wide open, ingest every word and accept the story as it is written. And yet, despite my saying this, it will still feel like a fast paced thriller which will have your nerves jangling and your heart thumping, fearing for Straker’s safety, even though the sane part of your brain knows that he survives to give testimony against those who would see him dead.
The imagery in this book is so vivid that I could picture the scene with ease, feel the tension and the oppressive heat as it built; could sense Straker’s relief at the kindest of gestures and feel his horror at the brutality of what he witnessed. It is hard to accept that we could live in a world where these kinds of atrocities could ever happen, let alone that it could have been in the past twenty to thirty years. Maybe Claymore Straker is a character of fiction but the facts that inspired this story are not. That makes my heart ache. That Paul E. Hardisty has managed to pull it together into a story which not only thrills but also saddens in equal measure, that brings forth such an array of emotions, is a true demonstration of skill. Well done, Sir.
About the Author
Canadian Paul Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer,
hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a, and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war. Paul is a university professor and CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). He is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia.
Author Links: Twitter
Books by Paul E. Hardisty