A version of Jeff Wallace’s novel The Man Who Walked out of the Jungle (MC Publications, 320 pp., $12.52, paper) was previously published as The Known Outcome.
The main character of this thriller is George Tanner, an American Army major who advises a Vietnamese military police company. In April 1970, a Caucasian male walks out of the rain forest just north of Saigon. He intersects with U. S. Army personnel and is shot and killed.
Most of the rest of this engrossing novel deals with finding out the identity of this man and what was he doing all alone in the jungle. He carried no I.D. and his clothing told those who found him very little.
Tanner is tasked with unraveling the mystery. He comes to find out that there are people who do not want him to find the answers. Danger seems to lurk around every corner for Tanner as he stumbles around following the few clues he has.
This is a work of fiction, we are assured, but Wallace, a former Army officer, tells us that “the characters, facilities, organizations, military units” we encounter bear much similarity to their real counterparts. The historical setting rings totally true to me as I spent a lot of time in the very spots the author has chosen to place his story in.
Wallace’s representation of his Vietnamese characters is extensive and jibes with what I saw when I was in Saigon. The main character falls in love with Vietnam and with a woman named Tuyet. He wrestles with the problem of convincing her to go to America with him. She cannot imagine herself living in anywhere other than Saigon.
This serious novel deals with Vietnamization, but does not dwell on the usual preoccupations of Vietnam War fiction. It is said more than once that we should have stayed the fuck out of Vietnam. Attention is paid to the French at Dien Bien Phu. As for the Americans, Wallace writes: The “world’s best Army is struggling to defeat a bunch of rag tags.”
I enjoyed this thriller and was happy that it was more like a Graham Green novel than the usual infantry novel penned by often resentful and angry former draftees. I highly recommend it to serious readers of Vietnam War literature.