Leonard H. Le Blanc III served in the U. S. Air Force and the U. S. Navy. He has lived and worked in Thailand since 1991. It would appear that Le Blanc has used his experience and time in Thailand to create his military mystery detective series, U-Tapao Royal Thai Naval Base.
The two books in the series under review here–II and III: Airbase and Thailand (230 pp., each, paper, $5) are similar to Martin Limon’s series, which is set in Korea and is about two military policemen, George and Ernie. The story in Le Blanc’s books, we are told, “involves two young U.S. Air Force Security Police officers in their attempt to solve a massive Thai-operated theft ring on the base.”
Even though the two books are separately bound, they are really one story and one book, split into halves. Air Base is the first half, and Thailand is the second half of the story. Le Blanc does a fine job of setting the scene in Thailand on the air base named in the title. He also does a good job of bringing to life on the page many Thai characters. There’s no two-man team of police, though. Mostly, the hero of the book, Lt. Legere, is on his own.
The books are strongest when dealing with the life and duties of Lt. Legere as a low-level Air Force officer stationed in Thailand shortly after the American War in Vietnam ends. The best parts deal with the technical and personal aspects of that war winding down in Thailand where so much of the air war had been staged, especially as it related to the air bases.
A massive theft ring is operating on the air base, and our hero tries to get to the bottom of it, but he never really does. The truth comes out at the end of the second half of the story in Thailand, but Legere has little or nothing to do with the theft ring being broken. In fact, he has been long gone from Thailand, getting assigned to Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Legere briefly stops off at home on his way from Thailand to Ellsworth, and interacts with his mother. She says little to him that is personal, but she does comment that she thinks he is hooked on heroin due to his gaunt look and loss of weight.
This scene totally rings true to me, as my mother made the same comment to me when I returned home from Vietnam. She made the comment for the same reasons. Legere chooses to spend little time with his mother before moving on with his life. I made the same choice. No bra-less hippie girl spat on either of us, but I would have preferred that to what my mother said.
The great strength of this two-volume novel, written in memoir form, is in this sort of detail. All of it is well-told and held this reader’s interest once I got past the first twenty-five pages or so, which jumped around chronologically—1971, 1975, 1981, 1979, and then, June 1975.
Once our hero arrives in Thailand, the book is fun to read and very well-organized. The book is arranged in small sections of a couple of pages each, and each of these sections has a clear title that sets the time and place for the reader. I liked that tactic. It helped me because I get easily confused.
I thought that about a hundred pages in, the investigative aspect of the book was getting underway, but I was fooled. The book continues with the daily life of the LT, and shows how things do not go well for him. We find out late in book two why most of the Air Force personnel go out of their way to make Legere’s life a living hell, but I will not spoil anything by telling more here.
The massive thievery on the air base is a strong leit-motif in this novel, but Legere never kicks ass or takes names the way the main characters in Martin Limon’s books set in Korea do. And that is fine with me. Le Blanc has written a different sort of book, the sort of book I actually like more than Limon’s books, as much as I admire Limon and his military thrillers.
I highly recommend these two books to anyone interested in what it was like to serve on an air base in Thailand in the mid-1970’s. I can’t imagine that any other author has done, or will do, a better or more enthralling job of showing this life than Le Blanc has.