Friday, December 18, 2015


THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING by Paul E Hardisty (Orenda Books, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Hardisty bursts onto the crime scene with a searing tale digging up the dirt on oil companies operating in third-world countries. 

'Write what you know', they say, and it's clear from reading globe-trotting environmental engineer Paul E. Hardisty's searing debut that he's put plenty of himself and his own hard-earned perspectives and experiences into what is a very fine literary thriller.

In the information age, the truth can often get lost. Information is power, and those in power wield information like a weapon; to bolster their own interests, to muddle and hide the truths they don't want known, to keep things ticking along and the money rolling in.

Clay Straker, a combat vet now working as a hired gun engineering consultant for big oil in Yemen, is a key cog in that system, modifying facts and mollifying locals, all to keep the all-important dollars rolling in. Perhaps a good man at heart, though that's murky, Clay has acclimatised to falsehoods, hiding many truths from himself and others. He does testing and crafts any data and facts in a way that shows his corporate masters in the best light. He knows the answers they want to be able to tell the locals, the shareholders, the world, and provides that 'truth' for them: of course the oil operations are benign. And think of the benefits!

He's a corrupted man operating in a corrupt business in corrupt countries.

Clay is forced to change his choices when his local driver and friend Abdulkader is kidnapped by a notorious Yemeni terrorist. The price for his friend's freedom? Find out why local children are getting sick.

Looking to save the life of a man who's previously saved his, Clay has to peel back the layers. Of himself, his industry, and just what the heck is really going on locally. Aligning himself with a mysterious investigative journalist, Rania, he's forced to confront some very harsh truths. Sunlight might be the best disinfectant, but bringing things to the surface can also be very painful for a whole lot of people, including those doing it.

THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING is an absorbing, searing novel that is difficult to categorise or pigeon-hole. Hardisty brings Yemen to vivid, sweat-inducing life on the page, powering his environmental thriller with exquisite prose. It's an evocative book, extremely thought-provoking. Dense while still being fluid. The kind of book where you feel like you've read a lot, only to look down and be only a quarter of the way through, because so much is packed in. It's not a light, breezy read, but is a very compelling one.

I found Clay's journey compelling, while at the same time the story raises plenty of important questions about the intersection of power, people, and the planet. How politics, resources, human rights and multi-national businesses can blend and collide - businesses becoming so large and powerful they can influence governments, the hunger for profit leading to shortcuts so even more money can be made, the true cost or damage caused by such profit creation an inconvenient truth that is ignored, modified or hidden away.

Overall, THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING is a very good novel, an outstanding debut. Full of fascinating characters and insights, it heralds the arrival of a tremendous new voice who straddles the border between popular thrillers and weighty literature.


I reviewed this book earlier in 2015 for the Herald on Sunday newspaper in New Zealand. This is a much-expanded review, based upon contemporaneous notes and further thoughts on the book. 



  1. Great review Craig and I totally agree with your assessment - definitely an outstanding debut. I read the book just after a week's holiday in Oman and Hardisty has captured the feel of the landscape in the area perfectly.

    1. Thanks Malcolm. I'm looking forward to THE EVOLUTION OF FEAR, the next Clay Straker book. It will be interesting to see how Hardisty evolves him.