Brian Nicol was drafted into the U. S. Army in June 1969. He was assigned to the Army Headquarters Command in Saigon from 1970 to 1971. His novel, Support Troops (Amazon Digital Services, 175 pp., $2.99, digital), is set in that familiarly observed environment and is pitch perfect in every way. Nicol has been a writer and editor, and it shows in this literate and witty novel.
He’s created a unique voice for the main character, Spec5 Alan Lacey, a 22-year-old, smart-ass company clerk. All the power a company clerk has is communicated through vividly set scenes and incidents, all of them recognizable to me. I served in that same environment in Vietnam a few years earlier, also as a Spec5, and spent a lot of time typing and dealing with officers. Nicol provides the novel with realistic American characters, both lifers and draftees, and also he manages to create interesting and well-rounded Vietnamese characters.
The officers I dealt with were not the monsters that some in this novel are shown to be, so I did not seek to frag them, although there was a Sergeant Major who tempted me. The most powerful section of the novel is near the end where our hero plans a fragging. I won’t spoil it by telling how that came out.
Reviewing an e-book is a first for me. I’ve struggled with how to do it, as I could not use page numbers as reference points, nor could I write comments in the margins—there are no margins. I made a special effort with this novel, as it is such a superb work on this oft-neglected subject.
If you wish to read only one novel about support troops in Vietnam, this is the one. It held my attention; it had humor and pathos; and it is as well written as they come. It even has an epilogue that takes place in 1983 at the Tu Do Bar in Honolulu which wraps up a few mysterious plot lines.