Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul Hardisty

I love a good thriller. I have always been a Bond fan, even though there are aspects of the books that have not aged well and of the films that are downright silly; Bourne in print enthralled me, even though the films reduced him in their retelling. Claymore Straker is up there with Bond and Bourne when it comes to sheer entertainment but he is also self-aware and multi-layered and although the violence is brutal, it is deeply rooted in story and always questioned.

Reconciliation for the Dead has Straker seeking some peace for the sins of his past, fallen friends and the country of his birth. As a young man he served in the South African army and he has been fleeing both the real and the existential threats of that service ever since, but it seems that there may be some things that the Truth and Reconciliation Council just do not want to hear.

Reading Straker’s confession to the Council whilst in the real world white supremacists barely feel the need to veil their racism, whether wielding international power or peddling hatred in the streets, made the novel’s themes all the more stark and harrowing. The setting switches between his hearing in 1996 and the events he is explaining in the early part of the 1980s. The scale of the trauma he experienced giving his listeners just enough leeway to cast doubt on his testimony, unwilling to own its meaning.

Clay’s personal journey shows simply how being born into an oppressive system blinds you to its reality. His upbringing, education and training as a soldier were all informed by a worldview that marked him out as superior and, though the apartheid government in South Africa has fallen, it cannot be denied that this remains a dominant worldview across the western world. Straker travels to the very edge of physical and mental destruction before he finally sees the truth and one wonders how far the rest of us will have to go before we can honestly say we do too.

Hardisty’s writing is utterly gripping. Within a few paragraphs, the story consumes its reader; surrounded by the vivid landscape of Africa and completely cut off from their day-to-day world, a physical effort is required to withdraw from the narrative. Now a university professor and Director of Australia’s national land, water, ecosystems and climate adaptation research programmes, his author’s bio reads like a character from his novels and it comes across in his absorbing settings and convincing narratives.

The Claymore Straker series is the full package, containing a solid core of real life moral reflection that truly enriches its adrenalin fuelled, edge of your seat entertainment. It is full blow thriller writing for the thinking reader that can only be improved by a final page confirming “Claymore Straker will return”.

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