Big Mother 40 and Render Harmless by Marc Liebman

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After I finished reading Cherubs-2, Marc Liebman’s book that was billed as the third in a series with Lt. Josh Haman as the main character, I looked up other books in the series, which I swiftly realized were written and published earlier than the third book. I’m not bothered by reading series novels out of the sequence they were published, especially when they were written out of chronological sequence.

Big Mother 40 (Fireship Press, 402 pp., $19.95, paper; $7.50, Kindle) is another great read from Liebman—a retired Navy captain who served in the Vietnam War. This one focuses on the use of Navy helicopters in rescue operations during the war. Of course, there is also a military adventure story to go along with the education in how Navy helicopters were used in rescue missions in Vietnam.

Render Harmless (Fireship, 544., pp., $21.95, paper; $6.50, Kindle) finds Lt. Haman on an exchange with Fleet Air Arm in 1976 when the Red Hand starts setting off car bombs. There is lots of detail on car bombs, but not enough detail that I felt able to build and safely detonate one when I finished this exciting thriller.

Those who enjoyed any one of Marc Liebman’s novels featuring Josh Haman are more than likely to enjoy all of the rest of them as well.

I know I did.

The author’s website is MarcLiebman.com

—David Willson

Some Rise by Sin by Philip Caputo

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The novelist Philip Caputo served as a Marine lieutenant in the Vietnam and is best known for his classic memoir, A Rumor of War, which was published in 1977 and has remained in print since then.  He’s written another Vietnam War novel, Indian Country, his latest book, Some Rise by Sin (Henry Holt, 352 pp., $28, hardcover; $14.99, Kindle) is set in the Mexican village of San Patricio beset by a war between a brutal drug cartel and the Mexican Army and the police.  It is often hard to tell who is who.

Padre Timothy Riordan is an American missionary priest who has been sent to Mexico more as a punishment than anything else. He buddies up with Lisette Moreno, an American doctor who ministers to the villagers’ health rather than their souls. Her lesbian love affair with artist Pamela Childress adds drama to her life in the village.

From the first page of this novel, the main characters seem headed for a cliff they must inevitably tumble over. It’s no surprise when a real cliff appears in the narrative. Padre Tim is the most tortured soul I’ve encountered in modern lit in a long, long time.

At first I thought that the references to the Vietnam War would be a leit motif that would continue throughout the novel, but I was wrong. Very early in the book we learn that Padre Tim had an elder brother, Sean, who had won a Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam. A few pages later we learn that Sean had come home from Vietnam with eyes coated “in a hard finish that had cracked, like old lacquer, allowing an underlying sorrow to bleed through.”

The next time we encounter Sean, he is paraphrased as saying this about the Vietnam War: “It was the place where you found out that you weren’t who you thought you were.”

Padre Tim is learning in Mexico that who he’d thought he was had been a lie fabricated out of pride. His struggle to figure out how and why an all-loving God allowed—and seemed to encourage—the existence of evil was fated to fail, and to bring down his work as a missionary.

There were no more references to the Vietnam War after that, other than a brief mention that the helicopters and piles of weapons in Vietnam continued to be used by police, soldiers, and drug traffickers.hires-philip-caputo-2017-by-michael-priest-photography-1

The rest of the novel is held together by the suffering of Padre Tim.  Caputo portrays Tim’s suffering every bit as well as Graham Greene would have done were Tim a whiskey priest.   Caputo tells a powerful story in this novel, so powerful that I believed every word of it and figured that he based this narrative on actual events in Mexico.

I highly recommend this new novel by this master story teller who has honed his gift for many decades and is totally on his game in this book.

The author’s website is http://www.philipcaputo.com/

—David Willson

Lincoln Park by James Westergreen

516ip8jobul-_sx331_bo1204203200_James Westergreen served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. His novel Lincoln Park (Black Rose Writing, 242 pp., $16.95, paper; $2.99, Kindle) starts off in Quang Phu in Vietnam’s Central Highlands in late 1969. The first paragraph is about leeches and Americans wading the paddies, mostly likely working in the Phoenix Program. I was hooked enough to keep reading.

The back cover blurb tells us that this book is a wartime thriller ranging “from the pleasure districts of Saigon to the back-alleys of Chicago.” MP Cpt. Tobias Riley is on a quest for vengeance as his buddies are double-crossed and their bodies litter the pages.

Naturally, there is an American deserter who joins up with a mysterious Madam who runs a heroin ring out of a hotel in Cholon. I spent a lot of time in Cholon, but never ran into anything exciting. But that’s fine. I wouldn’t want to read a novel about the time I spent in Cholon; it’d be too boring, and this novel is far from boring. The bloody exploits of villain Jack Flash in his Phoenix Program role keeps the pot boiling with his connections to “Air American pilots, Chinese warlords and rogue soldiers.”

The characters are running a race to the first to retrieve a lost C-47 full of heroin. The colorful, all-American language keeps the book anchored in the times: We read about Terry and the Pirates, Roy Orbison, OK Corral, My Lai and Lt. Calley, the Moron Corps, Davy Crockett, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, Steve McQueen, Jim Morrison, Brigit Bardot, Nancy Sinatra, The Monkees, Glen Miller, Flash Gordon, Agent Orange, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” Geronimo, Saddle Up, Most Ricky Tick, FTA, righting with our arms tied behind our backs, Indian Country, the light at the end of the tunnel, Peace with Honor, cannon fodder, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—the list goes on and on.

Westergreen creates a verbal tapestry with this language, which holds the sometimes frantic plot and story lines together. The language is almost another character in this frantic and hectic thriller. The author is a superb word craftsman.

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James Westergreen

Double-cross and vengeance color most of the pages in this fast-paced book. Fans of wartime thrillers will love it.  Good luck in finding another book more filled with the violence associated with modern war and illegal drugs run amok.

Westergreen has made his career writing gritty action novels. He has hit new highs in this one.  Buy it and enjoy.

The author’s website is https://jwestergreen.wixsite.com/author

—David Willson

Bringing Boomer Home by Terence O’Leary

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Terence O’Leary writes acclaimed, realistic, coming-of-age novels that focus on teenagers facing family crises. The crisis in Bringing Boomer Home (Swan Creek Press, 238 pp., $11.99, paper; $7.99, Kindle) relates to the war in Iraq and to young men who leave small-town Friday night football behind to serve in that conflict.

Cody and Boomer are brothers who were stars on their high school football team. When Boomer graduates from high school, he chooses to join the military and go to Iraq to become a warrior.  He saves the lives of three buddies who were being burned alive. In the process of trying to save them, Boomer is horribly burned. His face and his hands need months of reconstructive surgery.

The Vietnam War is often referred to in this book, as Cody’s girlfriend is part Vietnamese and lives with her grandmother who is 100 percent Vietnamese and who lost part of an arm in the war in Vietnam. Boomer’s father encouraged him to join up, but his mother was against the idea.  This was a source of family conflict, especially after Boomer comes back to the United States hideously scarred.

Boomer spends many months in rehab and eventually returns to his community. Cody’s girlfriend Kim, a photographer, prepares the community for Boomer’s return by creating a photo essay. Kim’s grandfather was a Vietnam War photographer and there is much discussion of other Vietnam War photojournalists, including Larry Burrrows, Catherine Leroy, Eddie Adams, and Nick Ut.

The title gives a lot away. The final third of the book is devoted to what steps are taken to bring Boomer home to his community. These steps are risky and complicated, but they work out—after a fashion.

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Terence O’Leary

This is a Young Adult novel, and one expects that since it is aimed at young people, it will have a hopeful conclusion. Those are the kind of books that Terence O’Leary writes and this one is no exception. There is no real villain, except for perhaps the war.

The book ends with yet another football game. I’ll let you guess who wins: Cody’s team or the Panthers.

This is an excellent YA novel, and one that this not-young adult enjoyed reading.

The author’s website is www.terenceoleary.com

—David Willson

Cherubs 2 by Marc Liebman

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Marc Liebman was commissioned as an ensign in the U. S. Navy in 1968.  He entered the Naval Aviation Training Command and put in a twenty-four year Navy career, retiring as a captain.  He’s a Vietnam War veteran and also served in the first Persian Gulf War. He’s the author of several military thrillers, of which Cherubs 2 (Fireship Press, 464 pp., $19.99, paper, $9.99, Kindle) is the more recent.

For non-Navy veterans (like me), “Cherubs” refers to altitude increments of 100 feet. Cherubs 2 means that the aircraft is at 200 feet. “During a combat rescue, there are four main elements: the survivor, the helicopter or helicopters tasked to pick up the survivor, the airplanes flying close air support, and the individual coordinating the rescue effort,” Liebman explains.

He brings alive the above schematic for helicopter rescues of downed flyers. Such rescues provide much opportunity for character conflict and dynamic scenes of conflict. You need one good guy who stands above the others, and you also need a bad guy, or at least a flawed character who will be in conflict with the hero.

Our hero is easy to spot as this book is among a series named after him. Josh Haman is the guy.  The fellow he is most often in conflict with is Lt. Steve Higgins, Naval Acadamy graduate, class of ’66, “and don’t you forget it.”  Lt. Jr. Grade Josh Haman, on the other hand, is a ROTC product. Higgins has everything going for him, but he is fatally flawed. He is risk averse.

Being risk averse in a combat situation, especially when an important part of your job is to go into harm’s way to rescue downed flyers, is a recipe for being labeled a coward. The novel’s plot boils down to striking a balance between labeled insanely reckless or being so cautious as to be thought of as yellow to the bone.

There is a lot more to this novel than that. Josh Haman is Jewish, which leaves him open to name calling from Higgins, including “Jew bastard,” and “Kike bastard.” Being an officer in the military during an unpopular war leaves them both open to being egged and spat upon. We also encounter REMFs, the body count, almost overwhelming military gobbledygook, and complaints about trying to fight a war “with our hands tied behind our backs.”

“Indian Country” is the place that downed flyers are retrieved from. It also is the place where real-life flyer Dieter Dengler spent most of a month evading capture by the enemy.

I found this novel engrossing, and eagerly await the next one in this series. The series is literate and witty and historical enough to teach me stuff I’m interested in, but without ever being boring. I highly recommend it.

The author’s website is MarcLiebman.com

—David Willson

MIA: A Hero’s Return by Frank Charles Pisani

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In Frank Charles Pisani’s novel MIA: A Hero’s Return (CreateSpace, 308 pp., $11.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle) Army Sgt. Harry Archer has been kept prisoner by the North Vietnamese for more than forty years because he and a few hundred other Americans were considered being of worth as captives. The POWs live quiet lives in Vietnamese villages, using their farming or engineering skills to help the victorious North Vietnamese.

They are given wives and huts to live in and jobs to do. Archer plans to escape when he gets the chance. Finally it comes and he makes his move. It’s up to the reader to suspend disbelief as much of the story is not very believable. If you read it rapidly, on the other hand, it does roughly hang together.

Among other things, Pisani has the captives cling to their aversion to fish and the smell of fish longer than seemed likely, but that is what they do. There also is complaining among the men about not having received the recognition they deserve; Jane Fonda is cursed; and the North Vietnamese are shown murdering a baby, a turnaround of the “baby killer” myth that American Vietnam veterans were made to suffer for.

There is a section about “The Wall in Washington” and ranting about long-haired commie symps being traitors and running to Canada to avoid the draft.

Harry Archer escapes to America and seeks retribution from those who run the country for all the harm that was done to him. I won’t relate what that looks like, but it isn’t very satisfying.

Pisani does tell an engrossing story and his characters are interesting and believable—to a point. If you are hungry for yet another Vietnam War POW novel, but one that is a little bit different, try this one. It held my interest.

I was disappointed that no mention was made of John Wayne, but you can’t have everything.

—David Willson

Abandoned: MIA in Vietnam by Bill Yancey

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Bill Yancey’s Abandoned: MIA in Vietnam (CreateSpace, 294 pp., $12.95, paper; $2.99, Kindle) is a thriller and a medical mystery. Yancey served in the U.S. Navy, including a 1967-69 tour of duty in the Vietnam War, and has an M.D. degree from the Medical College of Virginia.

This is the first Vietnam War book I’ve read that name checks Donald Trump. It includes an autographed picture of Trump posed in front of a yellow Mustang wearing asymmetrical wide black racing stripes. We are told that Trump bought this Shelby for his daughter.

I found the book extremely complex and hard to follow at first, but once I got involved in the story, I did a lot better. The main character, Dr. Addison Wolfe, comes across the name of an old Navy buddy named Byrnes in a newspaper and is “flabbergasted to read an attempted murder occurred in his name.”

Byrnes may have committed suicide; he may have been a victim of foul play. Or he may be a serial killer. Wolfe manages to shake loose from his chronic depression and begins to investigate what happened. In the less than 300 pages, as Dr. Wolfe gets to the bottom of the mystery, I was never tempted to give up on the book. It held my attention, and the ending was satisfactory to me.

I learned a lot about service on Vietnam War-era aircraft carriers. What’s more Yancey provides a huge amount of information without it ever becoming boring or irritating. That is a gift.

Bill Yancey has a point of view about the war–in a nutshell: “The North Vietnamese won.” He also believes the war was not necessary. Neither of those opinions caused any problems with the novel’s story or plot.

At the end of the book Yancey writes that he hopes that present-day politicians and diplomats are not setting up the world “for more unnecessary wars in the future.” I hope he didn’t hear the latest news about President Trump and North Korea, Syria, and China.

—David Willson