Set in Yemen, THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING is an eco-thriller from an author who writes about the issues explored with authority and a vivid sense of place.
Claymore Straker is a South-African born engineer, working on environmental approval reports for a major oil company in Yemen, a country teetering on the brink of civil war. Held up, with his local Muslim driver, at gunpoint by a local armed militia group, Straker is forced to investigate the potential of environmental contamination in a village close to oil fields. Children are dying, mothers are miscarrying, and the locals are convinced it's something to do with Petro-Tex, who are equally keen to cover up any potential involvement. Which puts Straker in a very difficult position as he feels very responsible for his friend and driver, held hostage until he checks the locals claims, and yet he earns his living from Petro-Tex work, who aren't pleased at his digging.
Given that THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING is a thriller there is much here that we take for granted. Straker's borderline super-human, able to withstand major beatings, threats, being jerked around, and having to deal with idiots. There's a beautiful love / sex interest - in this case the enigmatic French journalist who may / may not be on the side of Straker and good. There's the requisite huge multinational company with the self-serving employees and a desire to make money and increase their own power, regardless of any impact they may have. There's also a local terrorist / extremist group who, in this case, have come about as a result of the injustice done to them and their country. And as you'd expect, there are a lot of guns, much yelling, threat and danger everywhere and lot of rushing around the desert.
It's a refreshing change, however, to find considerable black and white in the motivations and behaviour of the so called extremists. Their land plundered, their people dying, this novel conveys the fine line between defender and antagonist. Their methodologies might seem barbaric, but in the event that you're left with few choices in the face of overwhelming power and wealth, there's lots of instances where one person's freedom fighter is another person's extremist.
It's a measure of the wonderfully descriptive style of writing that THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING works as well as it does. The sense of place, and the way that the climate, the landscape and the people all combine within a location very foreign to that which many of us live in is evocative. Having said that, particularly in the middle of the novel, some culling of the repetition in those descriptive passages, and of the science explanations, wouldn't go astray as it does bog things down a little.
Work through those sections though and you're left with an interesting double act. A thriller which entertains, leaving much for you to think about after you've put the book down.