Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Review of The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty (2015, Orenda)

Since his time in the South African army Claymore Straker has been drifting, trying to forget his actions in skirmishes with communists in Angola. Years later he’s working as an environmental and social agent for an oil company in Yemen, testing for pollution and liaising with locals. Petro-Tex is run by a Russian brother and sister who specialise in extracting oil in unstable regions. And Yemen is teetering on the edge of civil war between North and South, with Al Qaeda in the mix. Straker and his driver are captured by the latter. Their leader orders Straker to find out what is killing the children of Al Urush, near to Petro-Tex’s facility, or his driver will be killed. He agrees to do some testing in the area. What he finds is a landscape transformed, with the water drying up, and very sick children. His bosses at Petro-Tex order him to forget the driver and resume his normal work doing minimal testing and bribing local chiefs. Straker is determined to save his friend and also discover what is going on, even if that means getting embroiled in a complex mess of disaster capitalism and the ruthless games different factions will play to realise their ambition. He’s aided by a troubled French journalist, Rania, and Islamic terrorists and opposing military intelligence, and soon finds a price put on his head.

The Abrupt Physics of Dying is a thriller tale focused on the disaster capitalism of the oil industry and the environmental and social collateral damage of drilling in a politically unstable region. The tale is mostly set in Yemen at the point where the country is teetering on the edge of civil war. The protagonist is Clay Straker, a man with a troubled past from his time in the South African army, who has been drifting since his discharge. Trying to regain some stability he’s set up his own company doing environmental testing and social liaison work with local communities for oil companies. He’s been hired by Petro-Tex, a company owned by a couple of Russian billionaires, whose deposit in Yemen is running out and is seeking new sources. Straker and his driver are kidnapped, with the driver held hostage only to be released if Straker discovers why children are dying in a village near to Petro-Tex’s facility. Straker’s investigation places in confrontation with his bosses and also Yemeni military intelligence. Unwilling to sacrifice his driver, or the local villagers dying, Straker sets out to discover the truth, unsure who to trust, given just about everyone wants him to fail. Hardisty spins out a decent thriller, keeping the pace and tension high, with plenty of action and twists, and threading through a love interest in the form of Rania, an investigative journalist. While the tale has the usual credibility issues of thrillers, what elevates the book above the pack is the context and setting in Yemen, and the spotlight on the environment, social and political consequences of oil industry. Overall, an engaging, entertaining and thought-provoking read.

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