An intriguing and intelligent political thriller
It’s often said “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but let’s be honest, we all do it don’t we? If a cover doesn’t draw our attention then it’s unlikely that we will pick up the book, scan the blurb and read the front page. For some people a pastel cover with shiny text screams “chick lit” and they’ll avoid at all costs, for me the pseudo 50 Shades covers – dark with a grey/steel stock photo of a tie or a whip or handcuffs on the front. I’m just not interested. It’s probably unfair but with so many books out there to choose from it’s not surprising that we find a way to make quick decisions. Sometimes though, it’s worth looking beyond the cover and taking the plunge. That was certainly the case with The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E Hardisty, one of the first books from the exciting new independent publisher Orenda Books.
The cover is mostly dark with the image of an oil refinery lit so brightly it could almost be in flames. I’m going to be honest, the image didn’t grab me too much but the blurb certainly did. It promised intrigue, conspiracy and maybe even a bit of romance. I was persuaded to look beyond the cover and start reading the story.
The year is 1994 and Claymore Straker is a South African working in Yemen as an engineer for a multi-national oil company. Kidnapped by Islamic extremists he is blackmailed into investigating a mysterious illness which is killing children in a remote village. As Clay discovers more about his company he finds himself accused of a murder he didn’t commit, on the CIA’s most wanted list and under threat from people who want him dead.
I really enjoyed The Abrupt Physics of Dying. It’s a knowledgeable and intelligent thriller which, despite being set two decades ago, feels fresh and thoroughly relevant to today’s geopolitical situation. This is a story of the Middle East in chaos, fear of Islamic terrorism and the deliberate environmental destruction wrought on communities by businesses only interested in profits rather than social responsibility.
Claymore (despite his daft name) is a great action hero. He’s intelligent, thoughtful, loyal, and he can break a bad guy’s nose in an instant. The setting is fabulous and so well-written that a land that is, for me (and I’m guessing many Western readers), unknown and very foreign becomes alive on the page. We can hear the noise, feel the heat and even taste the poisoned water. Hardisty clearly knows his stuff and has created an evocative portrait of Yemen.
This is a post 9/11 novel set in the pre 9/11 world and the reader’s hindsight helps to build tension and fear. It’s a novel that you should spend time with, pay attention to it and take the time to enjoy. It’s not one to be rushed or skim-read, instead it should be savoured and appreciated, Hardisty and his novel deserve it.