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April 9, 2013

SOUTHERN STYLE: ‘My Name Is Hardly’

My Name Is Hardly” — the second book in the “My Temporary Life Trilogy” — doesn’t disappoint. If you’ll remember, the central character in the first book was Malcolm. We left him after a harrowing experience in Canada, in which he becomes a reluctant hero and all is well in the end.

However, this left a lot of readers questioning what happened to his friend back in Scotland. His name is Hardly, just like the title says, and he reappears in the book as a grown man, a soldier, in the most unlikely of places — a loft over the home of an elderly couple who have agreed to let the English Army spy on Irish Provisional Army soldiers from the vantage spot over their kitchen.

This might seem farfetched, but there were actually military operations of this nature during “the troubles” in Ireland. The loft sitters were required to remain in their cramped quarters for weeks at a time.

In Hardly’s words, “I’m uncomfortable as hell. I’m trying to find a position where I can be comfortable and still alert, but it’s difficult. I need to be able to react in a timely manner in case the front door gets thrown open, but I can’t seem to get my body to relax. Our orders are to observe and record, and react accordingly. In other words, watch what’s going on, stay out of trouble, and don’t lose sight of the ball. Don’t screw up.”

It was often a boring and uncomfortable assignment, suffering heat, cold, dampness and endless hours of doing nothing but staring at each other, or at the walls. The two soldiers grew to know the routine of the downstairs couple down to the minute. Often, to pass the time, they talked of their pasts. In sotto voce.  

Crosbie, who is an excellent writer, gets his story across sometimes by having the characters “think” their scenes. After all, how much conversation can people have in a loft, cut off from normal human contact? While one sleeps, the other keeps watch. This is where we learn much about their personalities, triumphs and failures, hopes and dreams, their secrets and their sorrows.

And for Hardly, there were many sorrows. He actually joined the military to put some of them behind him. After Malcolm’s father, Alex, witnessed signs of Hardly’s abuse, he took the boy in, gave him a home, and treated him as his own son. Since Malcolm eventually stayed in Canada, this situation was actually beneficial to both Alex and Hardly.

But Hardly needed to prove himself a man. Small in stature, he was frequently the brunt of jokes and bullying while in school. In the Army, he was championed by his superior officer who hand picked Hardly for these secret missions and then groomed him for the kind of discipline he would require as a “loft sitter.”

Through a series of journeys via his mind’s eye, we catch up on what happened to Hardley while we were in Canada, biting our nails with Malcom as he saved the day.

Hardly’s life was never easy. An alcoholic by the time he was in grade school, he came by the nickname when his instructor asked him if he’d been drinking. “Hardley,” he slurred. The name stuck.

A shy, introverted boy, he grew up in a loveless home, often beaten by both parents, who were also addicted to alcohol. As a man, he overcame the habit and went on to become one of the best of the loft sitters.

Crosbie crafts his characters with care, building them slowly so that when the time comes for action, crisis and tragedy, you really care about what happens to them.

Recently I read this quote, “That moment when you finish a book, look around, and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives as though you didn’t just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback.”

That’s exactly what finishing one of Martin Crosbie’s books feels like. As if you have closed the cover on an old friend. Few authors have the ability to grip you emotionally as does Crosbie. I think that’s because he composes the plot so carefully. This is not a “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” kind of novel. You become invested in these characters, you believe in them, fight alongside them, laugh and love with them.

A master of subtle suspense, Crosbie's careful buildup results in a climactic ending. You'll be sitting on the edge of your chair by the time you reach the last few chapters.  

“It took me 10 months to write this one, but truthfully I was working on it in my head for longer than that,” says Crosbie. “I had a character who was already quite defined, so it was easier than starting from scratch and then rewriting over and over. This book was rewritten and revised several times because that is the way I operate, but not as much as the first book and that's because the characters were already alive and kicking.”

Alive and kicking — that’s just what you’ll think when you read this book. I can't wait for the next book!

You can purchase Crosbie’s books at Amazon.com.

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