Synopsis: 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.
Review: Although a work of fiction there are some events, groups and people in this book that are not. As someone who was alive during this time but is not old enough to remember the Cold War all of the events here were new to me. I was aware of the conflicts in South Africa and Apartheid because they continued for many years but the rest was new and, until I found out otherwise, something I thought the author had created simply for the book. This is one of the reasons books like this appeal to me, I can learn about past events in a way that make them more real than they may be in a history book. I know it’s not 100% accurate but it brings the period and events within it to life and in my opinion anything that educates people about past events, particularly the shocking ones in this book, is a good thing.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted. The story starts off at speed on the first page and does not let up until the end. Even in the scenes where the pace is a little slower there is the ever present underlying tension that is written so well by the author. Even if you pick and read a chapter at random you will feel the tension that exists throughout the book. The descriptive details are first class too. There was enough description that I knew exactly what was happening and could easily and clearly picture every single scene (something that doesn’t always happen) but not so much description that it was overly wordy, something some authors are unable to do.
The characterisation is also good. I spent most of the book not knowing how I felt about Straker and to be honest I’m still not sure how I feel. The little snippets from his testimony to the Commission were brilliantly done, popping them in throughout the story, rather than all at the beginning or end, gave for me greater context to what had happened and how it had affected Straker and the others involved. I’m not always a fan of a story moving from one time to another but this was handled really well and the change in typeface for the Commission scenes also helped.
Although I would agree that it is a crime novel it’s quite different from the ones I usually read. However, having said that if you are interested in history and like crime fiction then I would definitely try it. I also think this book will appeal strongly to those who like army and war related stories even if they’re not into crime fiction and I would recommend it to them.
Author bio: 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 Director of Australia’s national land, water, ecosystems and climate adaptation research programmes. He is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia