Duro first lays eyes on Laura and her family through the cross hairs of his rifle, as their four-wheel drive winds through the Croatian hills. Like Aminatta Forna’s previous novels, Ancestor Stones (2006) and The Memory of Love (2010), The Hired Man is told from the perspective of one who has suffered but survived conflict. Duro, a middle-aged Croat, has spent most of his life in the town of Gost, which was caught between opposing armies during the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the 1980s and 1990s. He is strong and good with his hands, so Laura, visiting from England, employs him to restore the dilapidated house she has bought as a holiday home. But Duro also has a way with words: ‘I often thought I would like to be a writer.’ ‘This story’, he explains, ‘is not the story of the whole of the past, just the story of a single summer’, though, like the pockmarked buildings of Gost, the betrayals of the old days are ever-present.
Duro’s motto is ‘patience, focus, control’, and there is a fair amount of peeping through windows and creeping about in the dark; rifles are always to hand, though it isn’t the hunting season, and the novel’s title carries a whiff of the contract killer, contributing to the sense of latent