Inhuman (RTNY Publishing, 571 pp. $13.99, paper; $2.99, Kindle) by Eric Leland, is a military action/adventure and a horror novel. It should find fans in both genres. During his time in the Army after the Vietnam War Leland saw duty as an MP before becoming a Special Agent with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.
His book starts with a very exciting Prologue, and then we meet a young Vietnamese girl and her grandmother who live in the northern part of the country close to China. We quickly learn that the people in their village have been guarding an evil secret for hundreds of years and it appears that the two women have special powers, including the ability to craft dreams in other people. The girl, Jara, also can apparently understand other people’s memories and dreams.
It’s 1969 and a CIA program assigns inexperienced captains to Special Forces units to keep the enlisted men honest and to make sure they undertake their missions using CIA-approved methods. The program is not received very well by senior NCOs, and the Americans frequently butt heads with each other while fighting North Vietnamese troops—and supernatural evil forces. When the men go into the field they wear unmarked uniforms, carry suicide pills, and do not have to follow any rules of engagement. One soldier says he’s excited about the concept of being able to “break things and hurt people.”
Recon Team Florida has gone missing and Recon Team New York is sent to find them. They encounter a village where more than a dozen Vietnamese civilians were killed while apparently trying to escape from something that had terrified them. They find claw marks indicating that some of the dead had tried to climb trees. There’s also a rope bridge, a hand-dug cave, and a deep pit.
On what the author describes as a “piss-colored morning,” the unit encounters Jara, who is wearing a mysterious vial around her neck and wielding a large sword. Then comes a storm of helicopter crashes, friendly fire, and a man who “mouse-trap snapped.” Afterward, one of the men, when asked if he is okay, replies, “I’ll be fine. I just need to forget everything that happened in the last five minutes.”
Before long, the members of recon Team New York are running for their lives. Extraction by air seems impossible, and they can’t safely cross the border into China. So they decide to fight their way out.
The book is filled with evocative writing such as : “Dark clouds reached up over the mountains and strangled out the fading light”; “The jungle greedily absorbed the morning coolness;” and the men enjoying the “blue quiet” until “the light came screaming into the valley.”
Despite a couple of places where the writing seemed unintentionally humorous, I came away from reading Inhuman with the idea that there may have been many people who lost their souls while serving in Vietnam during the war.
This is a great work of military action combined with horror; Leland seems to be well-versed in writing about both.