John L. Hart, the co-author of There Will Be Killing: A Novel of War and Murder (The Story Plant, 350 pp., $14.95, paper, $9.99, e book), has been a practicing psychotherapist for more than forty years. He began what would become his life’s work in Vietnam where he served as a psychology specialist. Hart’s co-author, Olivia Rupprecht, has published a lot of novels and works as a ghostwriter and book doctor.
In this novel, which evolved from a screenplay, Hart thanks “the brave and dedicated women and the men of the 98th (KO), the Red Cross, and the Mission hospitals in 1969-70 for all you did and all you gave.”
The main character is Israel Moskowitz, a child psychologist who has just finished Columbia University Medical School. He is drafted into the Army, and sent to Vietnam in 1969. He is assigned to the 99th KO, the 8th Field Hospital’s psychiatric unit in Nha Trang, a coastal town with beautiful white sandy beaches and great French restaurants.
Izzy gets orders to track down a killer who has embarked on a terror campaign. This plot reminds me of one of my favorite Vietnam War films, Off Limits. I loved that movie even though it came with many bothersome inaccuracies about the war.
The book’s beautiful and well-designed cover shows a soldier standing along on jungle trail, his rifle pointed at the ground, looking off into the bush. I wondered if I’d find this in the novel.
At the bottom of the cover in teensy print is a blurb by Tara Janzen: “A riveting journey into the perils of war and the darkness of the human heart—stylish and provocative.” Following Janzen ‘s name are the words, “New York Times bestselling author.” At a glance this could easily mislead the reader to think the quote is from The New York Times, which it is not.
Even though the main character is a psychology specialist in Vietnam, he ends up out in the jungle with an M-16, so the cover is not false advertising. When Izzy arrives in Nha Trang, he complains of the heat and the bad smell. I don’t remember either when I was in Nha Trang, but I had already been in-country for months, so that might be the reason. Izzy is a newbie and has yet to be desensitized.
He is told that his mission is “to preserve the fighting force—not by sending damaged soldiers home, but to “get them back to their units and the same combat zones”—the very ones that caused them to go crazy.
Soon Izzy gets roped into chasing a phantom killer called “the Boogeyman” who has been decapitating U.S. troops. Izzy has an artsy, feminist girlfriend back home named Rachel, who is ”hanging out down in the Village, grooving, listening to Joan Baez.” She sends Izzy a Dear John letter with the words, “Everybody is against the war now.”
One of the other doctors says, “I’d rather smell burning shit than those damn hippies.” I think he protests too much. Hippies didn’t smell all that bad.
Izzy describes the 99th KO as “a Disneyland Army Town, compared to the real thing,” but soon he is at risk because of that special mission. He adopts a mantra he hopes will get him through his war.
“Wake the fuck up,” Izzy tells himself over and over as he tries to adapt and become a “real” soldier.
Izzy’s involvement with two very dangerous characters moves the novel into the realm of a thriller. The book is, in fact, thrilling and produces some-edge-of the-seat action.
It also uses some of the experiences that Hart garnered during his tour of duty. I hope that this book is not his tour of duty, but a well-imagined adventure and thriller that takes place during the same time period he was in Vietnam.
I enjoyed reading this much more than yet another Vietnam War memoir or a thinly veiled memoir in the form of a novel. I recommend There Will Be Killing to those who enjoyed the film Off Limits as I did. It’s not for you, though, if bloodshed upsets your delicate system.
The book’s website is www.therewillbekilling.com