Paul E. Hardisty's Claymore ("Clay") Straker series, RECONCILIATION FOR THE DEAD, is now available, and it's a double whammy of a book: a South African soldier thriller set in the gory battles of 1971, coupled with Clay's 1996 effort to clean up his past by testifying to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both carry their own freight of terror -- and appalling risk.
Deepening the plot are Clay's deep and desperate love affairs -- one that builds during his efforts to untangle the corruption and possible biowarfare experiments during 1971 (at what point should loyalty to brother officers be tested against moral and ethical horror?), and another that continues in 1996 in his effort to merit the love of a woman we've met with him in the two preceding books in the series, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, which was short-listed for the 2015 John Creasey "New Blood" dagger from the Crime Writers Association (CWA), and The Evolution of Fear.
RECONCILIATION FOR THE DEAD -- and how can one read the title without also hearing an echo of "Requiem for the Dead"? -- can be read without the preceding books. In fact, its attachments to them barely affect this newest book, except for reinforcing Clay's motivation to give his testimony. The new title is a compulsive page-turner. Clay's earliest experiences of doubt toward the men he fights with -- his brothers in war, and the officer who in most ways is his father -- build ferociously through firefights and danger. The occasional glimpses of his future, layered into the story, give the reader confidence that in some form, Clay will survive. But the degree to which he'll compromise his integrity is in doubt at all moments, as he finds himself caught up in brutal experiments that reflect especially the racism of his country and his time.
I mostly raced through the book, eager to discover how Clay would confront his present and past, and to explore the dangerous terrain (human and geographic) of this thriller. Somehow, though, the whole time, I thought the biowarfare aspect would turn out to be fictional. So there was added shock and horror to learn in the author note that Hardisty based Clay's quandary on a real episode in the machinations of the South African apartheid government in 1981. Guess it just goes to show that truth can indeed be as dreadful and terrifying as fiction ...
Lee Child readers, espionage fans, and those savoring the new opportunities of this decade to enjoy global crime fiction will appreciate RECONCILIATION FOR THE DEAD. I expect to read it again, for the pleasure of this skilled author's layered plotting that tests the human heart and soul along with the capacity to navigate a battlefield and a crime. Highly recommended -- but leave time for this one, because it's worth savoring. And the powerfully drawn scenes and conflicts linger in my mind. Perhaps they will in yours, too.
All three titles are from Orenda Books.
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.