Blog Tour: Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul E Hardisty

From the PR: “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.”

Here we are with the third volume in Hardisty’s Straker series and let’s get this out of the way now; they just keep getting better – Reconciliation for the Dead is a massive leap forward and the best of the three and I do hope there’s more to come. Don’t misunderstand; I thoroughly enjoyed both The Abrupt Physics of Dying and The Evolution of Fear but Reconciliation for the Dead is something else both as part of the Clay Straker family and as a novel.

At this point in time we’re a little ahead of the book’s publication date so I’ll be wary of giving away too much in terms of plot or spoiler. Instead I’ll say that Reconciliation for the Dead is a real genre-defier; at times action thriller, at times political intrigue, at others social commentary and at times literary fiction but BRILLIANT throughout. Hugely gripping, deeply moving, highly intelligent, and – as is a real hallmark of Hardisty’s work – a story with heart and conscience.

As detailed in the PR, this novel sees Clay return to his native South Africa to testify in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – not so much for personal absolution but to lay out the truth on behalf of those unable to tell their stories. This isn’t one for the faint of heart; there are some intense scenes involved, bold and powerful revelations  from which Hardisty does not flinch. It’s practically impossible to run through just which atrocities we’re talking about here but we’re looking at the real nadir of human behaviour that’s let loose at times of war.  That so much of it is based on real events makes it all the more affecting.

The action scenes – into which you’re thrust pretty much from the get-go – are hugely immediate and crack along at a dizzying pace while retaining an intelligence that’s not all that common in the genre. For those who have read the previous novels Clay and Crowbar are both familiar characters – the events of Reconciliation for the Dead allow a far greater an understanding, filling in the gaps of a troubled and tortured history merely hinted at before.

This is a novel of actions and their consequences, of the past and its long shadow, the importance and cost of conscience and of the weight of regret. It makes for a gripping and compelling read. Hardisty’s writing, already accomplished – in my review of his first book I wondered if he hadn’t secretly been penning thrillers for years under an assumed name – is at it’s finest here; insightful, nuanced and intelligent and courageous; asking us all to examine our humanity and the cost of our actions.

Reconciliation for the Dead is as intense, thought provoking and hugely rewarding a read as it gets. Easily one of the best books of 2017. My thanks, as always, to Karen at Orenda for my copy of this book and do check out the other stops on the blogtour.

 

Blog Tour: Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson

fullsizerenderThe calm, secluded Icelandic town of Siglufjörður is even more quiet than usual; the sudden illness and death of a visitor means the town is in quarantine.

For Ari Thór this is not necessarily a bad thing – he and Tómas are now the lone members of the police force, splitting shifts between them. But he’s not keeping idle. A local man, Heddin, asks him to look into a decades-old mystery: in 1955 two young couples moved to the isolated and otherwise uninhabited Hedinsfjörður. Their attempts to forge a new life come to disturbing end when one of the women dies after consuming poison, help too far away to reach her in time. The case was never solved and suicide considered the accepted explanation. Heddin, the son of one of the couples and born in Hedinsfjörður himself, has been given an old photograph that may prove something more sinister occurred in that desolate fjord – for, holding the infant Heddin in his arms, an unknown man smiles back at the camera.

Who is the man in the photo? Does he have anything to do with the death of Heddin’s aunt? What really happened out on that bleak fjord? Unable to leave town, Ari is assisted in his investigations by Ísrún, a news reporter (introduced in Black Out) who’s chasing a case of her own.

Isrun’s case is a far more complex and  multi-faceted one that brings together a child abduction, murder and political ambition that is at times genuinely chilling and nerve-wracking. The hurried, freedom of her movement in Reykjavík further emphasising the cooped-up restraint of Siglufjörður as both she and Ari Thór discover just how far the actions of the past can reach into the present.

The splitting of action in Rupture allows Ragnar Jónasson to really flex his skills as a writer; equally strong in both establishing a slow burning mystery in Siglufjörður and a gripping, fast-paced thriller of a story in Reykjavík, each complex and packed with enough intrigue and revelation to ensure the pages of Rupture are turned with speed.

With many a well known series character there’s not much of an unknown quality about them. Their history and character traits are pretty quickly established and it’s seeing how these known elements handle changing situations that make for so many of their books. Everyone knows, for example, how a Jack Reacher type will respond in a given situation or whether a Harry Hole type will pick up a drink or not. What makes the Dark Iceland series so bloody addictive is that this isn’t the case with Ari Thór; glimpses and insights into his past and character are revealed with each book (the violent jealousy in Black Out or the truth of his parents hinted at in Night Blind) but the whole remains hidden so as to make the character of its lead as much a mystery as the crimes themselves and keep the reader coming back to the police station in Siglufjörður.

Rupture is a fantastic book, another brilliant instalment in the Dark Iceland series which is itself a vital addition to both the thriller genre and any discerning bookshelf. I cannot recommend this enough.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy and do check out the previous stops (I seem to have the honour of closing it) on the Rupture blog tour.

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Book Review: The Mountain In My Shoe by Louise Beech

“A book is missing.

A black gap parts the row of paperbacks, like a breath between thoughts.”

love that opening.

Last year saw publication of Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave on Orenda Books. A thoroughly moving book that made my reads of the year list. What impressed me most was how its writer was unafraid to tackle emotional areas from which others might blanch while combining such insightful writing with a compelling story. She’s done it again.

I was more than happy and eager to read The Mountain In My Shoe when it was so kindly sent to me by Karen at Orenda. Life and this year being the utter shit that it has been, though, means I couldn’t do so straight away. My stop on the blogtour for this one was kindly populated by the author herself with a piece on adversity that’s well worth a read, here.

Now, though, I’ve not long turned the final page on this one and it’s time to get down my thoughts and I’ll try to do so without giving away too much. If I can…

From The PR: “A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself …

the-mountain-in-my-shoe-copy-275x423On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.

Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.”

I seem to recall Louise Beech saying that in The Mountain In My Shoe she’d ‘accidentally’ written a thriller. If this is an accident then I’d be first in line to see what happens were she to set out to do so. I was thoroughly gripped and found myself turning through the pages with a speed that ought to have worried the binding. Contained within is a book that encompasses psychological thriller, emotional drama and gripping mystery.

As with How To Be Brave, there’s more than one voice telling a story in The Mountain In My Shoe: Bernadette, an abused housewife on the verge of leaving her controlling husband; Connor, a young boy who’s spent his life in the care system and The Book – Connor’s ‘life book’. The Life Book is Connor’s story updated by those that care for him – foster parents, social workers, teachers. I found this exceptionally moving – having just rediscovered my young son’s ‘My Story’ type book after moving and realising that, for Connor (and so many like him) life can deal some pretty harsh cards. A masterful touch from Mrs Beech.

The changing narratives and perspectives add a great depth to the story and each are handled convincingly and ring true. The Book is especially moving, upping the empathy for Connor and the suspense. It makes for painful reading at times but I’ve said this before and I’ll no doubt say it again; woe betide the author that goes for comfortable.

How To Be Brave and The Mountain In My Shoe are very different books and while there’s a few similarities (a diary and lifebook as narrative devices), there’s one undeniable thing they have in common; Louise Beech writes with an emotional honesty and bravery that elevates her work from the crowd. She writes in a way that just manages to cut to the core – especially as a parent – every single time. Brilliant.

Worth the wait, very highly recommended and thanks again to Karen at Orenda for another great book. Seriously, though, Karen; every time I think I’ve got my ‘Top Reads of the Year’ list sorted I open another book with the Orenda logo on its spine.

 

With every mistake we must surely be learning

Variety is the spice of life. What constitutes a great book will vary from person to person. We all have different tastes (to this day some people still try to tell me The Da Vinci Code isn’t just something to keep at hand for when you run out of toilet roll) and some only every read within a genre. Recommending someone read The Master and Margarita won’t work if they’re only ever ‘reading’ Jojo Moyers….

But…. every now and then that rare thing will come along – a book that is so unarguably great that you find yourself telling everyone they should read it regardless of their usual choice of paperback writer. Jihadi; A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov is just such a book.

IMG_7211The main thrust of the story is set in the fictional Islamic Republic and it’s capital Islamic City – such fictionalised generalisation of geographical particulars allows Toropov a much freer hand in painting scenarios and characters that are so worryingly real that you’re left with the impression that they may well have happened without running the risk of naysayer nitpicking over such trivialities of actual place/date/official-versions-of that would have hindered his craft had he set it in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan. Thelonious Liddell is an American intelligence operative captured, tortured and imprisoned by local authorities after a mission gone wrong in Islamic City. Fatima A is the young interpreter sent, initially, to assist in translation as he’s interrogated and, later, question Thelonious directly.

Jihadi: A Love Story is Liddell’s confession / memoir as written during his final months on paper smuggled to him in his cell at The Beige Motel –  a Federal Prison in Virginia. We know it doesn’t end well for Liddell but how he got to the point we find him as Ali Liddell is a hell of a story. It’s the story of how he went from senior agent to suspected terrorist, the story of Fatima and her family (how I wish I’d never learnt of flechettes), the actions of US Marine Mike Mazzoni, of the complex local information supply to the Directorate from shadowy sources, the weight of the past, marital and mental breakdowns, the rise of a new fundamentalist sect and how it all, piece by glorious piece, comes together in a gripping and though-provoking novel. All with a little help from the White Album and notations from R.L Firestone, the agent responsible for Liddell’s interrogation – one of the biggest questions the reader must face is who to believe, though as events unfold one version becomes increasingly unhinged while the other strives for clarity.

This is a book which raises some big questions. Questions about faith and love and, on a more pertinent and timely issue; questions on the West’s foreign policy and habits of wading into countries and cultures without any real awareness or consideration.

There’s also the question that Jihadi asks as to where the lines of ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ lie given the actions of each – for all the accusations that Liddell is a ‘terrorist’ and has been ‘radicalised’, the only action he commits to have earned such treatment is so minimal in comparison to that of the supposed ‘heroes’ as to wonder where the distinction can be drawn, if it can – and that’s without considering Fatima’s supposed act of terrorism.  Living is easy with eyes closed, both sides are capable of atrocities yet we make the assumption that when we’re told by ‘the Directorate’ that Side A is Good and Side B is ‘Terrorism’ it’s correct because they say so. This book asks us to open our eyes and consider things from a different perspective. There’s no side-taking, finger-pointing or blame-allotting, the tone of the narrative is purely neutral, all sides have their arguments shown, allowing – in the case of Mazzoni vs Fatima – the reader to make their own mind up. Granted Firestone’s annotations argue that Liddell references events that he was not present for and cannot possibly know about so his word cannot be trusted… but, then again, Liddell is a senior agent; it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch for him to find information and piece events together for himself after the fact.

Some of those events are not for the faint at heart. The ridiculous “War on Terror” is just that – a war and one with very human consequences and casualties. Unfortunately many of those casualties are innocent civilians and characters in whom Toporov has breathed life to such an extent as to remove any possibility of not being affected by their fates. The fact that the tone is neutral and detached emotionally  means that some of the more harrowing and violent scenes hit just that much harder – it’s your own emotional responses you’re projecting onto the text, not the characters’ and all the more affecting accordingly. Many was the time that I had to put the book down and take a breath, hug my son and reflect with gratitude for the safety in which we live. There’s simply no way to read this and, if you weren’t already, not wonder just where we’re going as a species when we’re capable of such treatment of one another.

The nonlinear narrative is in keeping with the premise of these pages being from a memoir and keeps the pace ripping along and while those annotations may seem intrusive at first they soon present yet another compelling sub-plot. Toporov is able to sew in many more characters and plot arcs than a standard, linear narrative might allow for, and move between them so as to offer multiple view points and keep the reader hooked as they each near their boiling point, their moments arise and they intersperse.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been gripped so completely by such a multi-faceted novel and I simply cannot recommend Jihadi: A Love Story enough. I’ve seen references to Homeland and yes, there are echoes of such tight covert intelligence plots here, there are echoes of le Carré and even Vonnegut. But they’re only echoes, the loudest voice here is that of Toporov; a compelling new author with a style of his own delivering an exhilaratingly fresh, important and powerful novel so very much of its time.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for sending me this novel and to check out the other stops on the Blog Tour – there have been some great interviews and insights along the way -and grab a copy of Jihadi: A Love Story sharpish.

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