The Evolution of Fear – Paul E. Hardisty

The Evolution of Fear by Paul E. Hardisty

Published by Orenda Books

ebook and paperback available 5 May 2016

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Evolution of Fear. Having read and reviewed the first book in the Claymore Straker series, The Abrupt Physics of Dying last year, I just had to read the sequel. 

My review is below, but first I have an extract of the first chapter, just to tempt you……


No Difference the Instrument 

30th October 1994: North coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom

It was a good place to hide. From almost any vantage the cottage was invisible. Notched into a wooded draw at the top of the bluff, accessible only on foot, the place looked as cold and dead as the Devonian slate and mudstone cliffs from which it was made. Forty minutes now he’d been watching the place, as dusk faded and night came, but he’d seen no one, nothing to suggest danger. Just the crash of the waves on the shingle beach below, the whip of wind through the trees. 

Claymore Straker shivered, pulled up his collar and watched the storm come in off the Irish Sea. Rain clouds scuttled overhead, low and fast, moving inland over the gorse and the stunted, wind-bent trees. The first drops touched his face, the cold fingertips of a ten-hour corpse. Winter was coming, and he was a fugitive.

Eight and a half weeks he’d been here, anchored into the cliffside, staring out at the grey solitude of the sea, watching the depressions deepen. Fifty-nine days, one thousand, four hundred and twenty-two hours not knowing where she was, not knowing if she was alive or dead, uncertainty burning away the very fibre of him. And today he’d cracked. He’d succumbed to worry and fear and he’d walked all the way to Crackington Haven, fifteen miles across the national park. Defying Crowbar’s orders, he’d gone into the village, found a public phone, and he’d made a call. Just one. And now he was more worried than ever.

Clay hefted his bug-out bag onto his shoulders and started towards the cottage. The path tunnelled down through a tangle of wind-shaped scrub, the branches closing over him as he went. Hands reached out from the darkness, snatched at his clothes. A thorn caught his cheek, nicked open the skin under his left eye. He cursed, bent low and followed the track as it swung back towards the cliffs. By the time he emerged from the thicket, the rain was coming hard and flat, squalling over the bluffs. He raised his stump over his eyes, trying to shield his face from the icy darts. There was the dark outline of the slate roof, the chimney pot just visible, the low stone wall that enclosed the small courtyard.

He had just moved into open ground when the clouds broke. Moonlight bathed the cliffline like a parachute flare. And there, just outside the cottage door, the back-lit silhouettes of two men.

Clay stopped dead. A gust raked through the scrub, a loud tearing as a sheet of rain whipped over the bluff. The men were only metres away, blurs in the slanting rain. They were looking straight at him. Seconds passed, slowing to the tick of insect wings in a childhood dream, then stalled completely in chrome-white illumination.

Surely they’d seen him.

One of the men shifted, shook the rain from his coat. A voice rose above the wind. Clay couldn’t make out the words, but the tone was calm, unhurried. As if commenting on the weather. Or the football scores. And in that moment, as the realisation came to him that perhaps these men were simply lost, walkers strayed from the park, he thought how powerful are the doubts we carry inside, how strongly we are held by these prisons we make for ourselves.

He was about to raise his hand in greeting when the two men turned away and walked the few paces to the cottage. One bent to the lock, worked it a moment, then pushed open the door. The other pulled a gun and burst inside.

It was as if a gallows door had opened beneath his feet.

Adrenaline hammered through him. He wavered a moment, then sprinted to the wall and dropped to the ground. A loud bang from inside the cottage amped out through the open door – a gunshot? A door being kicked in? Clay pulled the .45 calibre Glock G21 from under his jacket, cradled it dry in his lap, worked the action. He remembered Crowbar slamming the gun on the table the day he’d left him here. Stay put, his old platoon commander had said. I’ll come get you when things calm. Whatever you do, stay clear of town. With that bounty on your carcass, every poes from here to Cape Town will be hunting you.

Clay swallowed hard then started along the base of the stone wall, keeping low. He reached the cottage, crouched and looked seaward across the courtyard. The door was less than five metres away. It was the only way in or out. He waited, listened, but all he could hear was the pounding of the surf and the wind buffeting the cliffs, and above it all the drowning crash of his own heart.

How the hell had they found him, here of all places? Had someone recognised him in town? He’d been in and out in less than twenty minutes. Who, other than Crowbar, knew about this place? Knew he was here? Questions boiled in his mind.

But he didn’t have time to think them through. The door opened and one of the men stepped out into the rain-swept courtyard. He was short and stocky, powerfully built, and wore a black, thigh-length raincoat and a black baseball cap. He took a few steps towards the wall, shoes crunching on the gravel. They were city shoes; must have been wet through. A pistol with a long silencer hung from his left hand. He stood for a moment looking out to sea. Clay raised the G21, steadied it on the stump of his left arm and aimed for the middle of the man’s chest.

Just then, the second man stepped out into the rain. He was taller, wore a dark jacket and was bareheaded. Slung across his chest was a Heckler and Koch MP5 machine pistol. As Clay shifted his aim to take out the more heavily armed man first, the shorter man reached for his cap and pulled it off his head, slapping it against his thigh as he turned to face his companion.

Hy is nie hier,’ he shouted above the wind. ‘Nvolledige opfok.’

Clay’s heart lurched. The sound of his native tongue pierced something inside him. He’s not here, the man had said. A complete fuckup. He’d said it in Afrikaans.

Ja, maar hy was hier,’ said the taller man, looking out towards the bluff. But he was here.

The other man nodded. ‘Kan nie ver wees.’ Can’t be far.

Clay knelt behind the wall, the Glock trained on the man with the MP5. His hand was shaking. These were his countrymen, Boers by their accent, men who by their look and demeanour had in all probability fought against the communists in Angola and Southwest Africa, as he had. Their presence here, in the foresight of his gun on an autumn night on the north coast of Cornwall, seemed impossible, the ramifications a nightmare.

Clay knew he had to act quickly. He could run, disappear into the heathland, go west along the coast, give himself a head start. But they’d already managed to get this close. If he ran, they’d follow, just like they’d done with the SWAPO terrorists all those years ago, tracking them like Palaeolithic hunters, wearing them down with calloused feet, pushing them hour by hour towards the quicksand of exhaustion. It made no difference, the instrument: helicopters or spears, stones or high-powered assault rifles. Even, as he’d learned to his horror, back then during the war, the cocktails of muscle relaxants and incapacitating agents that shut down everything but your brain, suffocated you as you fell to the sea from twelve thousand feet, a silent scream drowning in your throat. Clay shuddered at the memory.

The tall man turned, looked down the track, readjusted the sling of his weapon so its muzzle pointed down, and said something to his companion that Clay could not make out. A gap opened in the clouds. Moonlight flooded the gravel courtyard again, pale as a false spring day. The two figures stood silhouetted against the hammered steel background. Clay breathed in, steadied his aim.

I did not ask you to come here, he said. I did not will this or want it in any way. I know why you are here, and I cannot let you leave. You have given me no choice. No choice.

He exhaled, squeezed the trigger.

The large-calibre slug hit the tall one between the shoulder blades, severing his spine. His legs collapsed under him and he sandbagged forward, inert, hands limp at his sides. Before the dead man’s face hit the gravel, Clay shifted left, aimed for the other target and fired again. This time to wound, to incapacitate, not to kill. The man spun right, fell to the ground. But then he was up, scrambling towards the house, his feet flailing and slipping in the gravel. Clay was about to fire again when the lights went out, the moon suddenly obscured by a thick bank of cloud. The target was gone, black on black. Clay could hear the man scrabbling on the crushed stone. He aimed low along the wall of the cottage, fired blind once, twice, aiming at the sound: deflection shooting. Slowly his night vision returned. The tall one was where he’d fallen, face down, the rain pelting his back. Otherwise, the courtyard was empty. 

Claymore Straker is a fugitive with a price on his head. Wanted by the CIA for acts of terrorism he did not commit, his best friend has just been murdered and Rania, the woman he loves, has disappeared. As his pursuers close in, Clay follows Rania to Istanbul and then Cyprus, where he is drawn into a violent struggle between the Russian mafia, Greek Cypriot extremists, and Turkish developers cashing in on the tourism boom. As the island of love descends into chaos, and the horrific truth is unveiled, Clay must call on every ounce of skill to save Rania and end unimaginable destruction being wrought in the name of profit.

Oh my goodness, just how much can one man cope with!   I thought that Claymore Straker had been put through the mill in book 1, but in this, the follow on, the pace is relentless. When does he sleep!

I don’t want to give away too much about the plot for fear of spoiling book 1 for those who haven’t yet read it but as you will see from the extract above, this book starts with Clay holed up in a remote cottage on the Cornish coast.  Following previous events, he is a wanted man with a price on his head.  He now has to go on the run again – and find his lover, journalist Rania.  They had a break and now she has disappeared.

This story begins just a few months after the end of The Abrupt Physics of Dying with the majority of the story taking place in Cyprus.  For decades, there has been hostilities between the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots following the Turkish invasion in the 1970’s.  This story concerns land grabbing, the dirty dealings of both Turks and Greeks regarding building developments on important coastal areas needed for the conservation of turtles. The boom in tourism has fuelled the developer’s greed and desire to build huge resorts on the very land that the turtles use for breeding.  Their numbers are dwindling and they are in danger of extinction. Rania is following a story on this which inevitably places her in grave danger.  By trying to find her, Clay is also in their sights and whilst dealing with corrupt politicians and dangerous businessmen, he has to stay one step ahead from those wanting him dead – the Medved family, as well as his nemesis – a character from the previous books Zdravko.  

I enjoyed The Abrupt Physics of Dying and gave it 4*.  This one, I have to give 5* to.  I have to admit that a lot of the detail about boats and other technical data went over my head but the author has written a fabulous action packed detailed story with such well drawn characters and deserves 5* for that alone.  Clay is not a James Bond type of superhero; both physically and mentally he struggles with his past but he is brave and loyal and fights against injustice.  There were many times in the book when I was either silently shouting at him not to do something because it wouldn’t end well or holding my breath fearing for the outcome.  

One thing did strike me with both these books, they are both set in 1994 but they feel very contemporary and it is so easy to forget that you are reading a story set at a time over 20 years previously.  The only time for me this did really show was over the lack of use of mobile phones – something which we take for granted today. Although a couple of characters did seem to have mobiles, I don’t recall Clay using one and instead relying on public phones or leaving notes. 

There are betrayals and dirty dealings galore in this story.  Clay didn’t know who to trust and neither did I – I was constantly worrying that certain characters he was getting involved with would betray him.  

If you like your thrillers action packed with pace and suspense then I have no hesitation in recommending this one.  Although there are plenty of dead bodies which appear throughout, it’s not a typical run of the mill crime thriller but more of a story of mankind’s moral compass.  There are times when you have to do the right thing, even if the result brings you personal heartache and hardship. 

Finally, this could be read as a standalone but I wouldn’t recommend that you do so. You would get far more out of the story if you read The Abrupt Physics of Dying first. 

My thanks to the publisher for the paperback copy to review. 

About the author:

Canadian 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 cafe 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. His debut novel, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger, and received over 60 five-star reviews.

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