To Any Soldier by G.C. Hendricks & Kathryn Watson Quigg

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Any nineteen-year-old woman who can think and write like the character Ashley Beth Justice in To Any Soldier: A Novel of Vietnam Letters (iUniverse, 259 pp.; $17.95, paper; $5.99,Kindle) should have been scooped up and cherished for a lifetime.

Her letters comprise half of the book, which begins with one addressed “To Any Soldier” in Vietnam. She is in her first year of college. Lt. Jay Fox plucks her letter off his squadron’s bulletin board at Da Nang and answers it.

A Marine Corps A-6 pilot, Fox intellectually trails a step behind Ashley. Of course, bombing “Northern Gooks” (as he calls the enemy) and avoiding ground fire consume most of his attention. Ashley and Jay exchange letters throughout 1968.

The two fictitious characters evolved through a collaboration between co-authors Kathryn Watson Quigg and G.C. Hendricks. Back in the day, the authors filled roles similar to those of their fictional characters: Quigg attended college and Hendricks flew more than two hundred combat missions. The book includes lots of pictures of them and their surroundings at that time.

The letters exchanged between Ashley and Jay deal with subjects that stretch from war, destruction, and death to love, creation, and life. Despite the physical distance and opposing views they had on many topics of the era, the two fell in love. But that’s not how the story ends.

I enjoyed the book because Ashley and Jay address controversial arguments in a rational manner. With time to reflect between letters, their discussions lead them to learn from each other.

The authors’ backgrounds give the romance authenticity with which many veterans might easily agree.

They hit home with me.

—Henry Zeybel

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Sapphire Pavilion by David E. Grogan

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David Grogan served on active duty in the post-Vietnam-War United States Navy for more than twenty-six years as a Navy Judge Advocate. He’s now retired, but his experiences in prosecuting and defending court-martial cases around the world inform and enrich his writing of legal thrillers, the first of which was The Siegel Dispositions.

That book introduced Grogan’s main character, ex-JAG Corps officer Steve Stilwell. The Sapphire Pavilion (Camel Press, 280 pp., $15.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle), another mystery thriller, involves Stilwell fighting to get justice for his old buddy, Ric Stokes, who is incarcerated for possessing heroin in Vietnam. Stokes was sharing a hotel room with Ryan Eversall, now dead of an overdose while with a prostitute, herself now among the missing.

Stilwell is convinced this is a frame-up and travels to Saigon to get to the bottom of the affair.  The bad guys who set up his friend immediately go after Stilwell. There’s a file involved in this thriller labelled “The Sapphire Pavilion,” a catchy and convenient title for this book.

The villains underestimate Stilwell, who refuses to roll over and play dead. Helping him fight these forces of evil is a plucky and lovely female former Army pilot, Casey, who has one leg—a beautiful one—due to injury in a helicopter accident.

Stilwell gets through all of this derring-do in one piece, but it seems possible that Casey could lose her other leg. I won’t give that plot point away. It also looks as though our hero, Steve, might lose his wife, who has had it with his globe-trotting and consorting with beautiful female spies.

David Grogan

The case file for Sapphire Pavilion looks as though it will be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s McGuffins, but it works well enough to carry the book’s plot along until the exciting end.

If you enjoyed the previous book in this series, you’ll love this one, too.  Read and enjoy.

The author’s website is davidegrogan.com

—David Willson

 The Circumstantial Man By Gary Reilly

Running Meter Press was established in 2012 to publish novels left behind by Gary Reilly when he died. During his lifetime Reilly had published only one short story and no novels. The Circumstantial Man (255 pp., paper) marks the twelfth posthumous Gary Reilly novel Running Meter has published in the last six years: a trilogy about his time in the United States Army as a military policeman; the Private Palmer novels: and eight novels about Murph, a Denver taxi cab driver (The Asphalt Warriors series).

The Circumstantial Man is a stand-alone novel about Pete Larkey, a sad sack who is divorced, out of work, and the owner of an automobile that has a dead battery. Pete is so much of a sad sack that he doesn’t think of wiggling battery cables to see if that would enable him to start his car. Throughout this novel—which chronicles the various misadventures that this failure brings down on his benighted head—Pete takes himself to task for not knowing how to do this and for failing to do it.

The publishers of this fine novel call it a suspense thriller, which I think is not really accurate.  This is a novel of the modern human condition. Late in the book, Pete says, “In my experience, things related to hope rarely work out.”  There are many such pronouncements by Pete, and I jotted many of them down.

He sometimes is capable of looking on the bright side, though. For instance, Reilly has him digging at gunpoint what he thinks will be his own grave, and he remarks that at least the soft soil is easy to penetrate with his shovel. We learn a lot about how the world works, at least the world that Pete inhabits, which is a world very similar to my own.

There are many references in this novel to the time that Pete spent in the Army. At one point, he notes that incarceration is similar to service in the military.

He mentions Audie Murphy twice and Grendel and Beowulf once each. He quotes Jack Kerouac as saying that the Army “couldn’t hire shits to push mops, make beds, KP.”  Pete also debates the differences between Skippy peanut butter and Peter Pan. He prefers Skippy. The villain who holds him at gunpoint prefers Peter Pan because, he says, Skippy tastes too much of peanuts.

The publishers tell us that there won’t be another novel featuring Pete Larkey, but there will soon be another novel with Murph the cab driver as the hero.

I can’t wait.

For more info on Reilly and his literary output go to the publisher’s website.

—David Willson

The Hand of the Wicked by Bob Young

Bob Young, a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America, has just written his second book, The Hand of the Wicked: A True Story of Murder and Betrayal in Reconstruction Georgia (CreateSpace, 254 pp., $19.95, paper; $4.95, Kindle), a historical novel set in Georgia just after the end of the Civil War.

Based on a true story, the murder of a former enslaved woman and the subsequent miscarriage of justice, this is a fast-paced novel that effectively evokes the legacy of slavery during Reconstruction.

“In poignant fashion, this fact based novel focuses in on how the era known as Reconstruction too often rested on hatred and injustice,” the noted Civil War historian James “Bud” Robertson wrote, calling the book a “first-rate read for those who seek truth in history.”

The author’s website is bobyoungbooks.com

 

Going Home by Scott E. Raymond

Scott E. Raymond served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation during two WESTPAC/Vietnam War combat cruises in 1972 and 1973. He was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1977.

Going Home: One Sailor’s Inner Search during the Turbulent Early 1970’ (Wise Publications, 224 pp., $14, paper) is a father/son novel. The main character, Ben Bradford, is a twenty-two year old struggling with a fraught relationship with his father, a decorated World War II veteran. This relationship is examined against the international backdrop of the American political scandal we know now as Watergate.

As the back cover blurb claims, the book has a powerful message dealing with “faith, family, comradeship, and love.” There also are elements of the supernatural, as Ben serves on the same ship that his father intersected with during World War II.

Ben has dreams and visions that had no rational explanation that I could see. Those dreams and visions move him closer to being the son his father wants him to be. Ben falls in love with a girl of a different race, which is a test for a conservative Republican family, but she conveniently falls ill, so the final test is evaded.

With his Filipino girlfriend out of the picture, Ben is free to focus on his Navy life— and his life after the Navy.

If you are curious about life on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, this novel has the wealth of details that will satisfy that curiosity. The novel avoids most of the clichés that afflict Vietnam War novels like fleas on dogs. However, one of Ben’s fraternity brothers, Larry, does ask him, “So you’re heading back overseas to kill more babies?”

Scott Raymond

Somebody, Ben tells Larry, “has to do the dirty work to protect people like you who stay home and use their college draft deferments while the war rages on.”

That sums up the politics of this Navy novel.

I enjoyed reading Going Home and highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Vietnam War era U.S. Navy.

To order, go to the author’s website,  scotteraymond.com

—David Willson

Red Stick Two by Kenneth Kirkeby

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U.S. Marine Corps veteran Kenneth Kirkeby’s novel, Red Stick One, received got a ton of positive reviews, including one from this reviewer. So I was eager to read a second Red Stick novel, Red Stick Two (Sharp Printing, 307 pp., $15.95, paper; $2.99, Kindle). I was not disappointed, and wound up agreeing with cover blurb from Kirkus Reviews: “Kirkeby’s talent for riveting suspense shifts into high gear.”

Red Stick Two is set twelve years after Red Stick One. The main character, Virgil Clary, has settled down on his Wyoming ranch with his wife Michelle and their two children. He’s been struggling to make a go of it, so when a lucrative offer comes his way from his former intelligence chief, Virgil is ripe to accept. He’ll also be serving his country.  That’s a plus for Virgil, a true-blue patriot.

There are risks involved. He must venture to South America, to Peru, a country on the brink of civil war, where he and his partner, Agent Richard Creole, will have to rescue a kidnapped American engineer held captive by a group of violent Maoists. Do I need to warn you that things might not go smoothly?

In fact, things go very wrong, as they often do in international political thrillers, and the action shifts into high gear. Red Stick Two more than held my attention, with both the nonstop action and the raft of details that kept my mind full engaged.

Virgil is a warm, engaging character who has been away from the game for many years, but who has stayed in shape by being a hands-on rancher at a high altitude, a big help in mountainous Peru. Readers will root for Virgil and their suspension of disbelief will not be too seriously tested.

I’m already eager for the next novel in the Red Stick series. Bring it on!

—David Willson

Through My Daughter’s Eyes by Julia Dye

Through My Daughter’s Eyes (Warriors Publishing Group, 190 pp. $14.95, paper; $6.99, Kindle) is a terrific, fast-moving young adult novel that deals with the impact of war and post-war issues on a military family. It’s set in the present day and told in the first person by a middle school girl named Abbie.

First-time novelist Julia Dye’s father served in World War II, and she writes with authority in the voice of young Abbie as she wrestles with serious growing-up issues—as well as the tribulations all families face before, during, and after a parent is deployed to a war zone.

When things get particularly tough, Abbie has a sit down with her grandfather, a Vietnam War veteran. He tells her of his own difficulties after coming home from the war.

“It was really hard on me,” he says. “I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t understand why I was hated. I lost friends over there, too. Wasn’t easy. I began drinking [and worse]…. It took me a long time to realize what I was doing. If it wasn’t for your grandmother ,I might not have ever gotten better.”

What comes next is believable and poignant—a good capsule description of this entire worthy YA novel.

Dye, the Vice President and CFO of Warriors, Inc., the top Hollywood military advising company, also wrote Backbone: History, Traditions, and Leadership Lessons from Marine Corps NCOs.

—Marc Leepson