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. Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction.
Why Apartheid Matters
By Paul E. Hardisty
At the Newcastle Noir crime writing festival recently, someone in the audience asked me if I wrote to entertain, or to challenge the reader. My answer was: both. Fiction should entertain, and I try to give my thrillers a fast, hard, surface that drives the action along at bullet train speed, with plenty of sharp curves, switchbacks and sheer drops. Hopefully, by the time you’ve finished, you feel like you’ve gone ten rounds with a UFC fighter and survived. But the reason I write, the thing that gets me to the computer every morning I am able, is to challenge the reader to consider the social injustices that surround us every day, but that are too difficult, and in many cases too distant, to confront in their pure, factual form, and do it in a way that is unobtrusive enough to be, at first, invisible.
In my latest novel, Reconciliation for the Dead, third in the Claymore Straker series, Clay returns to South Africa to testify to Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Through his testimony, Clay takes us back to his days as a young solider in the South African army, fighting the communist insurgency in Angola, and defending his country’s apartheid regime. During a patrol deep inside Angola, he and his friend, Eben Barstow, come face to face with an act of such shocking brutality that they begin to question all that they have been told about the war. Caught up in a descending spiral of events, unable to stand by and watch, Clay and Eben decide to act. As they strip away the layers of falsehood, they come to see the sinister depths of apartheid, and just how far the ruling elite is prepared to go to hold on to power. It will change their lives forever.
The core plot elements of the book are based on little known, true events during this dark chapter of South African history. Apartheid was conceived as a way to guarantee the white minority’s long term hold on power. It was first introduced in 1948, and continued as official government policy until 1991. However, by the early 1980’s, the leading architects of the system and members of the ruling National Party began to realise that demographics were against them. High black population growth rates would eventually mean that the white minority would simply be too small to rule. The end was in sight. But no animal fights harder than when it is most threatened. This is the battle Clay is caught up in.
Apartheid is important not only as a reminder of the horrors of institutionalised racism, but as an example of what can be done when people and nations stand up against injustice. As the realities of apartheid became known more widely around the world, South Africa was increasingly isolated and subject to international condemnation. Years of economic and political sanctions followed. Inside South Africa, many joined the struggle for freedom, black and white, and many paid for dissent with their lives. By the early 1990’s, the end was near. In 1994, after years of imprisonment, Nelson Mandela became the first elected black President of South Africa. Today, perhaps more than ever, we need to remind ourselves of what can be achieved when people stand up for what is right. Reconciliation for the Dead is about a group of people who do exactly that, blowing the reinforced concrete roof off the most heinous of apartheid’s twisted secrets.
Canadian by birth, 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 with his family.