Richard Morris was a rifle platoon leader with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam in 1967. His main character in his 2007 novel Cologne No. 10 for Men (iUniverse, 214 pp., $24.95, hardcover; $14.95, paper), Lt. Wilfred Carmenghetti, is a platoon leader of a company in the First Cav in Vietnam. I suspect that the author drew on his experiences in Vietnam to write this satirical novel, as the details are all keenly observed and perfectly represented.
The cover blurbs compare this book and the exploits of Carmenghetti to Catch-22 and MASH. Kirkus Reviews called it “a funny and serviceable satire about the gross rationalizations that propel war and peace.” The novel is much more than serviceable. It serves the reader well on every page, oftentimes being often both funny and poetical in the same paragraph.
The blurb is right about Cologne No. 10 being a Catch 22 of the Vietnam War. It could not have been written without the model that Joseph Heller provided with his World War II novel’s man character, Yossarian, who was convinced that somebody was trying to kill him. Somebody is trying to kill Lt. Carmenghetti, too—a sniper who can’t shoot straight because of his long finger nails.
Many of the subjects usually found in Vietnam War infantry novels are here: shit burning; winning hearts and minds; hippies demonstrating back home for peace; enlisting in the Army to avoid the draft; saving the world from godless communism; 90 percent of the troops being in the rear with the beer; the bloodthirsty news media; search and clear; and—of course—body counts. The good news is that Morris uses all of these oft-mentioned subjects to satirical effect and they seem fresh and new most of the time.
We also get a lot of strong and well-delineated characters, including several Vietnamese, a rarity in an American Vietnam War novel. One of the heroes of the book is an African-American point man; another is a lieutenant who is spaced out much of the time reading Finnegan’s Wake. Well, he is more of an antihero.
This is a short book. I read it pretty much in one sitting, eager to find out how Morris would pull all the plot’s loose ends together. Carmenghetti figures out a way to end all killing in Vietnam, and it involves body counts. I won’t spoil things with any more details.
There aren’t very many funny Vietnam War infantry books. This is one of them. Read it and be amazed.
The author’s website is www.RichardMorrisAuthor.wordpress.com