Clay arched his back, lined up the man’s head, and with every joule of energy he could summon, whipped his neck forward.
Clay’s forehead made contact with the man’s nose. The cartilage collapsed as if it were raw cauliflower.
Just shy of three months after the events The Abrupt Physics of Dying and Paul E Hardisty’s Claymore Straker is again fighting for his life within paragraphs of the start of The Evolution of Fear.
Since The Abrupt Physics… Clay has been in hiding – there’s a price on his head and he’s wanted by the CIA for acts of terrorism. However, his hiding in Cornwall is short-lived following the discovery that Rania, the woman he loves, has disappeared, his friend has been brutally murdered and the arrival of mercenaries out to claim the reward on his head means there’s nowhere to hide.
Betrayed, hunted and desperate to find Rania before those hunting him get to her, Clay makes his way to Istanbul (via an expertly detailed sea crossing) and then on to Cyrpus. This isn’t a pleasure cruise, though. Far from it; soon Clay is entangled in a complex and increasingly dangerous web of power-play, political subterfuge and land-grabbing involving some genuinely corrupt and abhorrent figures, the Russian mafia, an old enemy out to settle scores and some sea turtles. Yes, sea turtles; just as the heart that beat at the centre of The Abrupt Physics.. was about the impact of such corporate greed on the local environs and innocents, here too we’re shown to just how extreme and bloodthirsty a length power can corrupt.
The plot is incredibly well thought-out and complex – given that it’s set in 1994 I often found myself wondering if I wasn’t reading fact over fiction. There is everything in here from the aforementioned political corruption and land-grabbing to flashbacks to past war crimes and emotional drama all with twists and counter twists, yet at no point does it feel over-stuffed; Hardisty does a wonderful job of giving you just enough information at the right time to keep it detailed without bogging down in redundant trivia, thus maintaining a pace that rips along like a great thriller should.
Action sequences abound, yet here they’re great, dirty and gritty scenes – think Bourne over Ethan Hunt – compelling and convincing. The locations are described vividly enough to immerse you in them, characters are strong and well fleshed-out and Hardisty writes with an expertise when it comes to the settings and the facts around which the events are choreographed.
The thriller genre is a crowded one and stuffed to its bindings with action set-pieces and broody sods as lead characters. What elevates Haridsty above the pack is the sheer quality of his writing, the intelligence and complexity of the plot and the strong, brilliantly crafted character of Claymore Straker.
Straker is a man beset with demons and riddled with guilt over his past. Not many lead characters are as affectingly human as Clay. Yes, he’s a tough bloke and one you’d want on your side in a scrap. Yes he has a violent and morally questionable past, but – and here’s why you care about the character – Clay is trying, really trying, to do the right thing and become the honourable guy he wants to be, even at risk to his own life. Haunted by his actions in South Africa, Clay is terrified that he’s driven by the same motives of his compatriot – the brilliantly drawn Crowbar – who simply loves to kill. It’s that struggle to do the right thing, against increasingly stacked odds, that makes Clay Straker a memorable character to root for.
There’s a quote on the cover of The Evolution of Fear from Lee Child: “A solid, meaty thriller – Hardisty is a fine writer and Straker is a great lead character”.
Nobody would want to argue with the man behind Jack Reacher and on the strength of both The Abrupt Physics of Dying and The Evolution of Fear it’s impossible to do so – in fact I’m going to state outright that Mr Child has some serious competition here; Straker well and truly holds his ground against that one-man army. It beggars belief that this is only Paul E. Hardisty’s second book – this is as tough, taut, high-octane and powerful as the best and with a level of intelligence that pulls it heads and shoulders above the pack.
Once again, if stars were to be sat at the bottom of my reviews there’d be five of them right here. Sequels / second instalments are a tough act to get right, The Evolution of Fear picks up where the first book left off and turns everything up louder.
The blog tour for The Evolution of Fear is reaching its end and I’m very grateful to Karen at Orenda for asking me to take part and recommend checking out those entries that have preceded my stop as well as tomorrow’s with CrimeBookJunkie – and getting hold of this fantastic book.