Time to roll the answer floats on down the farthest shore…. of the mind

There’s a few music ‘magazines’ I’ll read online. Things like Spin (for their lists, their in-depth Dinosaur Jr article etc) predominantly, occasionally Consequence of Sound, even Pitchfork (which I take with more than a grain of salt thanks to their hipster-heart-on-sleeve and love of things not even slightly alternative) from time to time for news. I’ll also get the Rolling Stone email on a close-to-daily basis.

I’m sure this isn’t unique or blog-worthy in itself but bear with me.

Sometimes there’ll be an article on a band I’m loving. So what I like to do – having read said article – is kinda back-explore the coverage of that band on the site(s). See what they were saying about them / reviewing etc before I was reading them.

IMG_4439My Morning Jacket dropped a new album this year, The Waterfall. It’s brilliant. No question from me that it’ll be up in the most played of 2015 come December.

Checking back on some of the earlier reviews for the band it’s interesting to see there’s a lot of comparisons for their seminal Z album to Radiohead’s OK Computer. Rolling Stone lead their review with “America is a lot closer to getting its own Radiohead, and it isn’t Wilco.”

I can understand the comparisons. It was a Big Step album. It was more experimental with the sound and was a deliberate move away from regional sound to something altogether more Universal and moved them into a different orbit in terms of sales, concerts and coverage.

I’ve spoken of it before so won’t do too much here.

In a way the comparisons thereafter also work. In the same way as some people never got over OK Computer and judged each subsequent release accordingly, the same is true of MMJ and Z. As Radiohead went further ‘left’ with their follow-up so did MMJ. The difference is that the quality control switch on the 1-2 punch of Kid A and Amnesiac was significantly higher than MMJ’s Evil Urges which alienated many by straying too far into the falsetto-funk and wandering – while Librarian and Touch Me Pt 2 still hold up not a lot else really does. A quick dart back to the centre followed for both bands too – Hail To The Thief for Radiohead and MMJ’s Circuital (obviously the timelines are a bit off). Circuital almost felt like an apology – straight ahead, less trip and almost subdued.

So if your wanderings into experimentation alienate some and your move back to please alienates others, what do you do next?

For Radiohead it was In Rainbows. Their now high-point. The culmination of their experimentation crafted into finely honed and tight songs without any flabby excess or weak points, taking every element of their sound to date and pushing it forward with the kind of expert confidence that can’t be ignored.

I didn’t get over OK Computer until I heard In Rainbows.

I didn’t get over Z – until I dropped the needle on The Waterfall (even if I did need to change the speed settings – who puts an album at 45rpm?!).

The Waterfall is not only MMJ’s most direct album, it’s also their trippiest. All the elements of their sound are contained in these 10 tracks and yet rather than feel like a retread, there’s an urgency to it, a compelling move forward. Everything is here from the big, live crowd-thrillers, the guitar solos, the orchestral / folk-rock, the psychedelic wanderings and the falsetto-hitting funk all surrounded by Jim James unimpeachable voice.

In the same way that Z sounded ready to blast forth from the stage (for evidence see the live album Okonokos that followed), The Waterfall sounds just as tailor-made to thrill audiences. Believe will undoubtedly be opening every live set for the next 5 years – a slow entry propelled with guitar-chord punching and the title repeated an octave higher each time until Jim James lets rip with a BELIEEEEVVEE that strays oh-so-close to Journey, the song lifts-off in the same way as Worldless Chorus and suddenly we’re airborne with the song. I’ve probably played the tune to death already but the rule at the moment is that if my toddler son rocks out to it, it gets played a lot – slipping this in the CD player (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – putting the CD in with the Vinyl is a win-win in my opinion) in the morning is the best way to start a day. Especially if the journey is long enough to include In Its Infancy (The Waterfall).

It’s something of a different tact for the band lyric-wise. There’s a different voice here, it’s more personal; certainly a break-up album, albeit with an air of “and so it goes”, with lines such as “I’m getting so tired of trying to always be nice,” (Big Decisions), ” it’s a thin line between lovin’ and wastin’ my time” (Thin Line) and “I hope you get the point, I think our love is done” (Get The Point).

That there’s another album due next year from the same sessions is great news – four years separate this from Circuital – even if a predetermined release schedule can sometimes spell an ease in quality.

It feels very much like My Morning Jacket are back in the game.

Nothing Ever Happens Around Here

Careful; the smallest whiff of a spoiler is contained fleetingly herein.

Iceland.

If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago what I associate with that country I’d have suggested a few bands like Sigur Rós, múm, Of Monsters and Men, Olafur Arnalds and that woman called Björk , Reykjavik 101, unpronounceable (by me) volcanoes and geysers. Oh, and the chap who sang “Ég á líf” at Eurovision a couple of years ago.

If you ask me the same question today I’ll add fjords, the herring boom, and great Nordic crime fiction to that list.

For in the last week I had the utmost pleasure of reading Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson.

The fist novel in Ragnar Jónasson’s Dark Iceland series – almost up to its sixth installment in Iceland – has now been translated into and published in English by Orenda Books.IMG_4357

Snowblind introduces us to Ari Thor Arason – finishing his police training (after starting and dropping other pursuits including Theology) on-the-job having spontaneously accepted a posting in the northern town of Siglufjörður. It’s a posting that takes him hundreds of kilometres away from his home, his partner and his comfort zone. Plunging him into a small town where things aren’t quite as tranquil as they seem and a killer is on the loose.

Quiet and remote, Siglufjörður is a small fishing town only accessible via perilous mountain roads and a small tunnel seemingly carved out of the rock without a millimetre of excess width for as Ari Thor takes his first journey through the sense of a trap being sealed begins to sneak in – “it was a narrow single track…. carved through the mountainside more than forty years ago” with water dripping in the darkness from a ceiling unseen. Even on the other side the weather is starting to turn grim and oppressive (“every winter is a heavy winter in Siglufjörður”).

Still, what could go wrong?  Siglufjörður is an idyllic little community set amongst the mountains and fjord where – according to Police Inspector Tomas “nothing ever happens”.

Nothing that is except murders, manslaughter, literary theft, adultery, fugitives in hiding, drunk locals stumbling into the wrong house at night and seemingly not a character in the story without a history of loss and tragedy and, of course, the politics of local am-dram.

Having visited such small towns at the foot of a fjord (albeit in Norway not Iceland) in summer when the majesty of the scenery will steal your breath, I often wondered how different those imposing mountains would be when winter sets in and the calm of such detached living is replaced by a sense of being cut-off and encircled by thousands of metres of impenetrable nature. I need wonder no more; Ragnar Jónasson perfectly creates an atmosphere of dense, stifling claustrophobia, an impenetrable trap tightening with every falling flake, using geology to form a locked-room style setting with the imposing mountains and heavy snow falling in like a heavy, stifling blanket:

Claustrophobia had sneaked up on him, a feeling that had deepened as the snowfall around the station had become increasingly heavy. It was as if the weather gods were trying to construct a wall around the building that he would never be able to break through. He saw things around him grow dim and suddenly he found himself fighting for his breath.

 

Siglufjörður beset by snow

Siglufjörður beset by snow

The fact that Ari Thor – like the reader – is the only one not used to such environs deftly adds to the fish-out-of-water feeling, almost a “am I the only sane person here?” element adding to the tension.

Just as the winter snow falls gently at first but builds, the plot unfolds slowly; each of the character arcs expanding at their own pace, gently but intractably linking to each other and interspersed with snippets of a knife-point burglary so obviously doomed to a bad end that no matter how tranquil that which follows may be, a sense of foreboding and danger pervades.

For a debut novel, Snowblind is startlingly confident and sure-footed. The characters and dialogue all ring true, the plot is original and packed with plenty a surprise. Perhaps most pleasingly of all, Jónasson steers clear of hackneyed plot devices and reveals; while Ari Thor possess a talent for his work he’s no ‘instant wonder / super cop’ – in fact his inexperience lands him in a very dangerous position as he enthusiastically blunders into a confrontation with a killer, preventing any real chance of justice being served and only solves the novels main “who dunnit” by chance.

It’s clear that Ari Thor is a character that has plenty of space and potential to grow and that the sequel is currently in-translation by Quentin Bates (who deserves very positive praise for his translation of Snowblind) can only be considered great news. The first sliver of NightBlind is enough to have me hooked while confirming that Ragnar Jónasson is a writer with plenty more up his sleeve.

From it’s opening prelude, Snowblind steps back a couple of months to put the pieces in place, then assuredly and calmly expands into a compelling thriller that keeps you gripped throughout and delivers a final 1-2-3 punch of revelations that will leave your gob on the floor.

Get a hold of a copy today and check out the other stops on the blog tour.

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Ploughing Through and You Don’t Know Jack

Oops; another month slips by without a post. Life is a busy thing with a toddler. The library has continued to grow and while my to-read list grows I’m getting through some great books. This last month (and a few days) I’ve ploughed through four books of an evening / weekend crashtime – and, in the case of one; lunchtimes. Let’s discuss…. IMG_4323 A Christmas gift from my wife (presumably as I’ve often mentioned that nobody says ‘bastard’ or does repressed anger as brilliantly as JC), John Cleese’s autobiography So Anyway was an odd read.

Odd as Cleese is an undoubtedly funny man with a rich and varied career in television and film comedy from Pythons and hoteliers to barristers hankering after Jamie Lee Curtis and even a few straight roles to mix it up a bit. He’s also known for a rather torrid personal life – currently married to his fourth wife – and the odd disagreement / heated debate with other Pythons named Terry Jones. YET wordage is not handed over to any of these but for the passing reference and occasional “so this is where that sketch / idea / character” originated. More ink is spent retrospectively linking events in his life to theories he’d later discover in psychology books than it is on those years so many were sure to have expected coverage of.

But… it’s still a good read. It’s a slow starter – Cleese gives a (sometimes too) thoroughly detailed account of his childhood, school years and early education. We learn how he inexplicably started supported the Australian cricket team as a young child and wonder why we need to know this nugget of information. So Anyway… is as insightful as an auto-bio could be and provides a great arc of a young man finding his calling in comedy – albeit unintentionally at first – and the road that took him to Python. It’s clear that even pre-Python Cleese packed more into these 30 years than many a full-career bio that lines the bookshop shelves. The overwhelming sense though is one of “but what about…”.

One of the things I like about short story collections is the ease of which you can dip in and out, one story at a time as it were, without losing any narrative thread. The problem with short story collections though is that there is no narrative thread, they can jump from tone to tone, first-person to third person narrative and the quality can vary dramatically. You often feel that you’re reading a series of sketches – ideas that will later be fleshed out, trimmed down and slipped in in a minor role or re-worked into a different context in the writer’s novels.

This is certainly the case, in part, with Tales From The Underworld, a collection of short stories by Hans Fallada. While his novels are rich, tightly bound mines of quality, the short stories here are perhaps too obviously touch-points for his later works to be taken at face-value. References to Altholm (setting for A Small Circus) rub shoulders with portrayals of farmworkers suffering at the hands of the government, characters across different stories share names and petty criminals and criminal acts populate a number of these stories. The struggles to get by, scrape an existence and find succour in the arms of loved ones at the most austere of times form the binding theme between those stories gathered here.

That being said, Fallada is a vastly underrated writer and even the lesser of those stories within Tales From The Underworld is only judged so in comparison to his own more-fulfilled writing. A darkly humorous and at times devastatingly moving collection, the short stories here are sequenced chronologically and show Fallada refining his style and themes. The quality tails off toward the end, sadly, but when viewed in line with his own life add up to show an insight into his thinking and writing process.

Reading thrillers has become something of a pleasure again. I’d started to lean into the genre a while ago – then stopped. The same authors I’d started to enjoy started leaving me a bit tired – namely Jeff Abbott and Robert Ludlum. First two Bourne books; brilliant. Third book; awful. Any other Ludlum book I tried was achingly formulaic. First Jeff Abbott books I read – Panic, Fear, Run – cracking stuff. Then he started in with the Sam Capra series and my attention waned as it all became too obvious.

But then lately…. lately I’ve been getting more into it all again. So, first stop: The Ghost by Robert Harris. Many’s the time I’ve been wandering around the supermarket at lunch and have seen a number of cheap books and thought of buying to read during the lunch breaks. This was one of those. I paid just £1 for it having immensely enjoyed Fatherland and found the story behind its publishing intriguing – upon hearing that Tony Blair was to resign, Harris stopped what he was working on in order to write this and get it out ahead of Blair’s own memoirs.

The Ghost is equal parts thriller and political swiping at Blair; a ghost-writer is bought in to help former Prime Minister Adam Lang complete his memoirs following the death of his former assistant. Very much a dig at Labour, its cozying up to the US and involvement in the War on Terror, The Ghost is still a gripping and well written thriller with enough grip and cliff-hanger-shockers to be a bloody good read even without the political overtones – especially as the final reveal is so shocking it surely cannot be true or intended to suggest so. While I’m not about to rush out and start filling the H section of the book shelves with the spines of Mr Harris’ novels, it’s certainly well worth a read – especially at just £1. They ought to include it in the Meal Deal for that value. 

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So with an appetite for a good thriller and having found the film adaptation of the character to be fine enough for brain-off entertainment I decided it was time to indulge a long-harboured curiosity and meet Jack Reacher.

Being the stickler for order that I can be I wanted to start at the beginning so got hold of The Killing Floor and devoured it in just a couple of days (not bad considering I really only read before falling asleep or at lunch). There’s been so much praise lauded upon Lee Child and his one-man-army Reacher that I won’t attempt to do so. But: bugger me it’s a good book. I will say that I was hooked from the start and will happily and readily get hold of more instalments.

I won’t go the full-hog though, given that the 20th such book is about to be published. I can’t justify the expense or book shelf space. Sorry, Jack.

Currently Spinning

Uh-oh; a break in posting has occurred.

To be honest it goes back to being very busy with that thing called life.

The busy in question has, however, been soundtracked by some great music, new and not-so-new.

First the new…. I’ve been playing two new releases at a steady pace for the last two weeks, both of which arrived on the same morning. Strangely enough this was the day after the arrival of the not-so-new – a bumper weekend for the collection.

IMG_4076Not so long ago I’d dismissed Death Cab For Cutie. I first heard them – like so many – at the time that Transatlanticism was propelling them into a lot of speakers. Title and Registration and The New Year (Christ, how many myspace and xanga pages featured that on January 1st for years to come?) were my way in and still remain a regular listen.

However, having heard a few earlier albums I was then put off by Plans. It sounded too ‘OC’ and watered-down to my ears. I Will Follow You Into The Dark was far too obvious and over-played for my taste. I still don’t listen to anything from it. So I stopped paying attention to Gibbard and Co. This was a bit of a mistake, really.

In 2011 my wife surprised me with tickets to a DCFC show. I hadn’t listened to anything new of theirs for some time let alone have any idea what they would be like live. I was expecting a lot of quiet acoustic numbers. Another mistake. It was a great show – new material (the Codes and Keys album which I grabbed on vinyl from the merch stand) vastly more upbeat and superior to anything on Plans and songs that I didn’t know that meant I quickly went and picked up Narrow Stairs. The quality of those two albums (and the connection to a great night out) meant that Death Cab went up the play count list.

While not as sonically interesting as Codes and Keys, Kintsugi continues along the same path musically – more blips and electronic phases than acoustic strums. Lyrically the theme of separation seems to abound. It makes sense given the events between this album and the last – though I’ve now read that Gibbard is trying to be less self-referencing than ever- with high profile relationships ending and founding guitarist / producer Chris Walla saying farewell to the band.

To my ears Kintsugi isn’t as strong as Codes and Keys but contains many a cracker. The vinyl (very pretty) also included the CD which meant it went straight in the car and has been on steady repeat over the last couple of weeks on the commute and family drives. It holds up very well and reveals more with each listen.

Not really one for listening to on family drives – it’s a bit too intense for toddler ears – I’ve been hungrily devouring another new one on repeated listens on my commutes.

IMG_4073In my overview of last year’s listens I mentioned how I’d rather Godspeed You! Black Emperor was the going concern over Silver Mt Zion. When they came back in 2012 their Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! was the best thing released that year. It’s still huge.

Accordingly I was pretty excited when news arrived – out of nowhere as is customary – of a new Godspeed album to drop in March.

Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is perhaps their shortest. Certainly for a while. It’s their first not to feature any samples or field recordings, just the most direct, intense and powerful sound they’ve made. It’s amazing. Having created a genre and dominated they’ve now found a way to make a variation on their sound which still manages to completely hypnotise and compel.

I won’t be able to see them when they make their way over here on tour this year but I’m just so very glad that they’re a) making music again and b) that music is of such pulverisingly high a quality as Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress.

And the not-so-new… I was happy to find Ennio Morricone’s Film Music Volume 2 on vinyl on ebay. I was even happier to find it was exactly as described and played faultlessly.

IMG_4072When it comes to film soundtracks I have my favourites. While John Williams’ Jurassic Park score is high up on that list, I’ve long looked forward to being able to drop the needle on both the themes from Once Upon A Time In America and The Mission. Both of these are by Ennio Morricone, both of which are my favourite of his (yeah, yeah; The Good, The Bad and The Ugly etc etc… don’t move me in the same way) and both of which feature on here. Perfect – if it took me three listings to get hold of thanks to the ending times.

This high blood pressure’s got a hold on me…

IMG_4025Powerful things, dreams. David F. Ross’ The Last Days of Disco is bookended by two – the teenage fantasy of Bobby Cassidy racing around Monaco and the disturbed nightmares suffered by older brother Gary following his time in the Falklands War.

Quite the juxtaposition, but then an awful lot happens between the two points as we follow the lives (and dreams) of the Cassidy boys in early-80s Kilmarnock. Bobby – don’t ask to see his tattoos – and his best mate Joey Miller aim at avoiding the dole, school and the army by setting themselves up as the new kings of the mobile disco scene, becoming caught up in conflict with the local party-entertainment-mafia kingpin. Gary, meanwhile, pursues a career in the Army (in an attempt to make his father proud), eventually being caught up in the Falklands Conflict.

I was born in 1980. As such there is zero chance that I was politically aware (or aware of The Jam) at any point during Thatcher’s reign. I do, though, have many a memory of the TV news containing phrases such as “strikes”, of the threat of the IRA and not knowing what Gerry Adams’ voice sounded like, of Simon Weston appearing on various television shows and of the image of the Iron Lady herself holding court.

Accordingly, I’m often fascinated to see and read portrayals of those times that served as a backdrop to my own childhood that fill in the blanks, as it were. To learn that it wasn’t all He-Man, Trap Door or Roland Rat on TV and that the god-awful music on Top of the Pops, and that which Bruno Brookes played on a Sunday Evening, wasn’t the only kind being listened to.

Along with plenty of references to ‘proper’ music, Ross evokes a vivid portrait of urban blight under Thatcher rule: a family of seven (soon to be eight) “all living in a three-bedroomed, mid-block council flat….. the only flat in a block of six that didn’t have the windows boarded up”, interspersed with transcripts from TV interviews and newspaper reports for increased context.

But context is really all that such ‘grey’ is for as this is no sad-sack, misery-guts, woe-is-life under the Tory Battle-Axe read. Far from it.

The Last Days of Disco is a thoroughly enjoyable, uplifting and bloody hilarious book that’s shot through with a clear and knowledgeable devotion to music (“the beauty and power of the 45rpm” as the PR summary so succinctly puts it) and a wicked, wicked sense of humour.

I come close to choking on my coffee when Hamish picked up the microphone to speak only for “a bang. A blue flash. A high-pitched shriek. And then the still unamplified but now perfectly audible ‘Ah! Ya fuckin’ bastart hoor, ye!’” Not to mention his abduction-at-urinal-point (seriously; poor Hamish comes in for such a drumming I did start to wonder if the author had something against him at times). Nor to mention the laughs I had imagining Mr King’s repeated rants of barely-repressed anger at each play of Shakin’ Stevens… “Ah’m fuckin’ agreein‘ wi’ him an’ he calls me “a cheeky wee cunt”.'”

Throughout, Ross demonstrates a real skill when it comes to rendering situations life-like, be it the brilliantly-funny first encounter with Hairy Doug and the disarray he and his ‘python’ live in to the disturbing nightmares that haunt Gary following his experience in the Falklands –

 …he saw the crudely shaped limbs of what appeared to be tailors’ dummies sticking out of the marshes and the mud as he advanced – bayonet out – towards them.

As he got to them, they weren’t mannequins but real people; kids barely out of their teens just like him, crying for their mums. It was Gary’s job to silence them. As he stabbed at them they didn’t just fall and die like they did in The Longest Day. They grabbed desperately at the blade…. it took ten thrusts to silence the desperate screams of the third. All of them were so close to Gary he could feel their hot breath on his face.

A real talent with words is at work in these pages.

Location is a key character in many a novel and The Last Days of Disco is no exception. Small-town life in Ayrshire is wonderfully described with dialogue delivered in Kilmarnock vernacular adding to both sense of place and the general hilarity: “Ah’m Franny fuckin’ Duncan. Noo whit dae ye want. Ah’m in ma fuckin’ scratcher.'”

DSC_5361 David Ross 2010The main story arc is beautifully bolstered by a strong cast of supporting characters. From dubious party entertainers making phallic balloon animals and hapless van drivers to local gangsters (Fat Franny Duncan is one of those woefully unaware self-styled master villains so comedically-inept as to almost warrant his own novel), each with any number of laugh-out-loud moments.

Seemingly minor plot lines intersperse into one and eventually meet that of the main in a thoroughly unexpected and compelling way with Ross deftly blending together the build up of conflict in the Falklands with that of the Ayrshire mobile disco scene.

In all honesty, I did not expect a novel that started out with young Bobby Cassidy dreaming of Sally McLoy’s “tits jiggling away like jellies in an earthquake” to slowly and surely become such a multi-layered social / political-commentary with so many plot twists and turns nor for it to do so with such skill and depth, but bugger me if that’s not what it did.

In his first novel, David F. Ross has given us a heady blend of social realism, tragedy, humour and Paul Weller. There’s not a dull moment in these pages and I wholeheartedly recommend getting your hands on a copy pronto.

Check out the previous stop in the book tour for The Last Days of Disco at Euro Drama and keep an eye on Literature for Lads for tomorrow’s.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for sending me another cracking read and Liz Barnsley for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

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While a lot of my favourite bands got started in the 80’s, the term “80’s music” to me still brings back nightmare like images of Duran Duran or Spandau-fecking-Ballet on Top of the Pops (not to mention the horror of Bros). Thankfully David F. Ross put together a quality (The Human League aside) playlist of those songs that brought about the book, you can check it out here: http://t.co/Pi5ReU5V16

When the sky is torn…

Claymore Straker is a man on the edge. A civilian in a dangerous land at a dangerous time. Kidnapped, held at gunpoint and lead into the depths of Yemen to be given an ultimatum by a man believed to be behind a number of terrorist acts including one which resulted in the death of Straker’s colleague. The tension is palpable and it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable eruption as Straker makes his break…

Before the old man could react, Clay bought his left knee up hard, smashing the old guy’s pelvis. The Arab’s mouth opened, the first note of a groan hanging in space, truncated an instant later as Clay’s right fist smashed into his face. Clay felt the key go in, the give as a membrane flexed, heard the slight pop as it broke, then the sucking sound as he pulled back his fist, the key with it.

Lovely, right?

abrupt physics of dyingThis is the start of The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E Hardisty. It’s also the point at which you realise you haven’t put this book down for four chapters and probably won’t until you’ve reached the last page.

Having worked around the world for 25 years as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist, Hardisty survived a bomb blast in a cafe in Sana’a and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war. This should come as no surprise having read Abrupt Physics… as Hardisty details Yemen, the political climate and the science with an authority that’s never questionable and with a delivery that’s polished enough to make you wonder whether he hasn’t secretly been publishing thrillers under a different name for years.

Clay Straker is  trying to forget a violent past, working as a contractor for an oil company as it seeks to expand it’s grip and presence in Yemen. His job is simple – complete the environmental surveys in a manner that gets approval for Petro-Tex and pay off any locals that need their palms greasing to remain calm. Until he’s kidnapped, of course.

Held at gunpoint and with his friend / driver taken as hostage by a terrorist organsiation, Clay is tasked with finding out what’s causing a widespread illness among the local children.

Of course we know it’s got to be something to do with the oil company but the hows and whys lead us into a world of political and corporate corruption and greed, violence and conspiracy – all set in a country on the verge of being torn apart by terrorism and civil war.

As events unravel the plot is dotted with twists and people with questionable allegiances that will leave you guessing until the end all the while rooted in strong, compelling characters and attention to culture – with dialogue liberally sprinkled with local and Afrikaans phrases to add further to the sense of immersion.

Everything you look for in a good thriller is here in abundance: a brooding hero with a troubled past, faraway locations, shady characters with even shadier motives, a love-interest, taught dialogue, corporate and moral deceit, the underdog risking it all with potentially disastrous ramifications, plot twists and counter twists and, of course, a bit of action.

The violence comes hard, fast and often. Straker takes so many and so severe a beating at times it’s hard not to wince while reading and wonder just how much one man can take. However, unlike so many thrillers which rely purely on such violence and action, The Abrupt Physics of Dying is driven instead by a compelling plot and well-crafted story telling, with near-poetic descriptions in some of the most unlikely of places:

A tendril of blood trickled from the dead soldier’s neck, a thread unravelling, scrawling a strange calligraphy onto the sand.

That being said, I do think it could find itself with an honourable mention in the Literary Review’s Bad Sex In Fiction Awards for the line “She was as slick as a tidal flat in a flood tide”.

This isn’t a no-brain, thirst-for revenge type thriller. At the heart of The Abrupt Physics of Dying lies an exploration of just how far corporate greed will go in its neglect of morals. As Clay questions his own morals and values its hard not to do the same. The atrocities and body count not celebrated but lamented and the concern for the damage being wrought on the local population reads as genuine.

So: Thriller? Thriller with a conscience? Eco-thriller? Geo-political thriller? How about bloody good book? It’s all of these.

In his first book Hardisty has created a thriller as assured, gripping, well paced and finely detailed as they come.  There’s a sequel in the works, The Evolution of Fear. Judging by the first chapter included in ‘Abrupt Physics’, it can’t come soon enough. 2016 seems a long way off now.

A great first publication from Orenda Books from whom I’m sure more greatness will arrive.