The Evolution of Fear by Paul Hardisty (Orenda Books)

Last year, I read and reviewed The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty. Hardisty displayed his skills as writer so well, it was a joy to read. Claymore Straker, the main protagonist, is just what I love in a male lead character – brooding, flawed, slightly arrogant but caring, despite his determination to remain detached. I have been very much looking forward to the next Clay Straker novel and I have absolutely devoured it from start to finish.

Clay begins the novel in hiding in the Cornwall countryside, trying to avoid the heat caused by his recent assassination of Rex Medved in the last novel. He finds himself on the run, and trying to find and protect his love interest, Rania, who is working under her alias, Lise Moulinbecq, to write articles on the political wranglings in Cyprus between the Cypriots and Turks, including underhand dealings on land development and it’s connection to the mysterious decline of the turtle population as the number of turtles breeding on the Cypriot beaches has reached an all time low. With an enormous price on his head by Medved’s sister, Regina, he has to try and keep under the radar of would-be bounty hunters and find out why Rania has come out of hiding to report on this particular story. Clay finds himself, and Rania, embroiled in a web of political and murderous situations that threaten the lives of them both.

While The Abrupt Physics of Dying was more ebb and flow of action, The Evolution of Fear is fast paced and gripping from the off. Even in the first chapter, Clay is in danger and this sets the tone for the rest of the novel. I polished this book off in three days, only stopping for work and sleep. There never seemed a good place to lay it down, to read at the next opportunity, so each time I had to stop, it was a real challenge to put the book down. (Sign of a good book, for me!)

We get to grips some more with Clay’s psyche in this novel. As he battles with his emotional connection to Rania, Hardisty wonderfully illuminates Clay’s evident PTSD from his time as a soldier in Angola. His conscience about atrocities committed during this time repeatedly dog Clay, often at the most inopportune moments. Crowbar, his former commanding officer and friend, is a great parallel for Clay, in that he has suffered the same atrocities but his way of dealing with it is to carry on regardless and drawing a line under what happened to some extent. However, Clay just cannot ease his conscience and is suffering because of it. Indeed, he doesn’t think himself worthy of love or happiness, which affects his decision making processes and the relationships he has with others, in particular, Rania. I particularly liked Hardisty’s approach to describing how Clay is overcome by memories of past traumatic events and it becomes another enemy for Clay to fight against.

As with the first book, Hardisty excels in his use of the landscape as a sometimes unforgiving backdrop to the action, or as a perfect setting for a particularly pleasant moment. His descriptive narratives are beautifully rich and vibrant, giving multi-sensual pictures in the mind of the reader of the various places Clay visits. He puts real passion into describing the natural elements of the landscape, and the novel is all the better for it.

Not only do you get a gripping plot with a Paul Hardisty book, you get an intelligent narrative that educates, informs and showcases Hardisty’s scientific background as an environmental scientist. He uses his extensive knowledge of his chosen field to add authenticity to the story line by giving the reader some scientific fact to highlight the problems faced by the characters.

The Evolution of Fear is a fantastic tale of political espionage and underhand tactics that provide a brilliant vantage point for Clay Straker as he battles to control his inner demons from past experiences. Hardisty has written a very fitting sequel to the first novel that, for me, is better than the first (and I really enjoyed The Abrupt Physics of Dying). Clay Straker is a formidable main protagonist with plenty of stories still to tell (I hope). Certainly the sneak peek at the end of this book implies so. Hardisty has again shown himself as an excellent creator of twists, turns and ploys to take the reader on a journey where they have no idea who Clay should and shouldn’t trust. Add to that mix his stunning descriptions of the landscapes and settings plus his careful application of scientific fact to the plot, and you have a perfect adventure story. I am certainly looking forward to reading and reviewing further Clay Straker adventures. Orenda Books is on fire at the moment, and with writers like Paul Hardisty, amongst others, signed up with them, it is no surprise at all.