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A globetrotting literary thriller that packs a punch and leaves readers with plenty to think about, Hesse Caplinger’s Terrain opens in 1995 in an evocatively described war-torn Sierra Leone. Marek Hussar is working with an international group of highly trained mercenaries to clear the remaining Revolutionary United Front forces from the mines, company properties, and surrounding villages in a particularly remote area of the country.

In the pay of General Solomon Koma and working with a group of Kamajors, Hussar’s team face death and despair on a daily basis as they systematically root out enemy combatants, many of whom are child soldiers. However, when Hussar is reassigned to provide protection to General Koma’s brother, who is being groomed to be the next Minister of Mineral Rights, things actually manage to take a turn for the worse.

In 2008, naïve young wannabe actor Argos Argyros is living in London and waiting for his big break when he meets the mysterious and slightly sinister Mr. Lanze, who hires him to take part in a hush-hush docudrama. The cast will be made up of professional actors and untrained individuals, and the key contractual term is that Argyros keep the script secret and tell no one about his new role.

Meanwhile, former trader Freddie Oslo is summoned to a meeting with his boss, Simone Helena, and company lawyer Ian Bretting. The financial crisis is looming––Bear Stearns recently “evaporated into the coin-purse of J.P. Morgan Chase … and now there’s concern for Lehman”––and there are indications that their company is not as solid as it should be. As speaking to Oslo might be a priority for the authorities should the worst occur, he is ordered to take an immediate holiday in an unspecified location.

The three disparate characters––Hussar, Argyros, and Oslo––are eventually brought together as part of a far-reaching plot that exposes both the corrupt machinations of big business and the futility of war. Hussar has the most central role to play, and his character is the most well developed. Quick-witted and introspective, he initially appears to be emotionally detached from everything around him, although as the story unfolds his motivations and select sense of compassion come to light, which is not to suggest that he is positioned as the traditional “good guy” character.

Somewhat unusually for a thriller, Terrain features significantly more description and conversation than action and adventure. There is much quiet consideration of corruption and the horrors of war, and it often seems that a lot is left unsaid by the characters. This nicely reflects the secrets and underhand deals that underpin the plot, although it does mean that the story moves along at a slower pace than it otherwise might. Caplinger neatly exposes the corruption and opportunism with which businesses exploit conflicts, and he paints a bleak picture of how individuals can get swept along and eventually overtaken by momentous events.

While it is the second book in The Hussar Cycle, Terrain can certainly be read as a standalone volume.

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Star Count 4/5
Format Trade
Page Count 228 pages
Publisher Carl Reinhart
Publish Date 15-Dec-2021
ISBN 9781667805047
Bookshop.org Buy this Book
Issue January 2022
Category Modern Literature