The Deserter by Nelson DeMille & Alex DeMille

The Deserter (Simon & Schuster, 544 pp., $28.99, hardcover; $14.99, Kindle; $49.99, audiobook) is the first novel by Nelson and Alex DeMille, a father and son team of writers. The father (Nelson) has written many best-selling thrillers, several of which deal with the Vietnam War. This one is little different than his previous novels. The Deserter features two new DeMille characters: Scott Brodie and Maggie Taylor.

The plot is a familiar one. The two protagonists journey to the heart of darkness—this time in Venezuela—in search of a bad guy, Former Army Delta Force Capt. Kyle Mercer, who has committed evil acts. Mercer has been spotted in Caracas in a part of the city that is off  limits to all but the worst criminals.

The team must enter this section of the city and somehow convince Capt. Mercer to return with them to civilization for trial and punishment. Brodie is suspicious of his partner, primarily because he thinks she’s a secret CIA operative.

The team goes up river in a boat which they steal, and which is hardly dependable. When Mercer has been captured, things go wrong, which is what this reader expected.

The novel is filled with the usual hairpin plot twists and black humor that I expect from a thriller from Nelson DeMille, who served a Vietnam War tour of duty as a 1st Cavalry Division LT. It is impossible to discern which portions of the novel were written by father and which by the son. Does that really matter?  Not to me.

There is much talk of black ops, winning hearts and minds, and raising rhubarb. Even Rambo gets a mention. Also being in “a world of shit.” The Vietnam War comes up several times, as does the Mekong Delta, “beans, bandages and bullets,” and Vietnam veterans.

I found the novel to be involving and fun to read. It was a bit on the long side, but for fans of DeMille that is a good thing.

The book’s page on Nelson DeMille’s website is nelsondemille.net/books/the-deserter

–David Willson

 

 

 

 

 

Legacy of War by Ed Marohn

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Vietnam War veteran Ed Marohn’s novel, Legacy of War (BookBaby,  340 pp. $16.95, paper), is a military thriller that delivers all the goods.

The protagonist, John Moore, is an overworked psychologist who has never gotten over the death of his wife from cancer. His bouts with depression and nightmares relating to his combat experiences in the Vietnam War have lead to his professional decision not to accept any patients who are veterans. That is, until now.

Dealing with a new client ends up with Moore learning a tale of the CIA’s war-time Phoenix Program gone wrong and a covered-up massacre, which gets him involved in a story of revenge—and a search for buried gold. Moore ends up grudgingly accepting an unofficial CIA invitation to return to Vietnam and help untangle a mind-bending mess. Before long, the hero says to himself, “This stuff sounds like a spy novel.”

He’s also aware that no one is telling him the complete story about anything. But he has his own reasons for getting involved.

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam needs unofficial assistance from the CIA at the same time the CIA needs hush-hush help from the Vietnamese. It turns out that the reasons for Moore being pulled into this secretive, dangerous mess go back more than thirty years. Some characters are trying to forget things they remember; others are trying to remember things they’ve forgotten.

The first half of the book is filled with conversations and explanations, but once the story gets going, it moves with the speed of a piano falling out of a thirteen-story window. At almost exactly the halfway point Moore is back on the “ancient soil of Nam,” wearing a .45 caliber pistol in a shoulder holster. Before long, he’s once again “humping through the Vietnamese boonies.”

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Ed Marohn

References to the Vietnam War are sprinkled throughout the book, as when Moore walks down a hall in an apartment building and notes that it resembles “a dark tunnel with a light at the end.” The apartment he’s looking for is “number ten.” A suicide note left by a Vietnam War vet says, in part, “It don’t mean a fucking thing.”

Notable characters include Moore’s female associate, a buddy he’s stayed close with since they served together in 1969 and 1970, and a female member of the Vietnamese National Police.

You want beautiful women, you got it. You want shootouts, you got it.

Most of the action takes place over a fifty-day period in late 2002, early 2003. More than one surprise makes this one well worth sticking around to the end for.

Ed Marohn served with the 25th Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division in the Vietnam War. His website is writingsfromed.com

–Bill McCloud

Jungle Warriors, Crime Fighters by Doug Houser

Doug Houser completed Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in 1966, and landed in the Vietnam War in January 1967. He served a thirteen-month tour of duty along the DMZ in—among other places—the Rock Pile, Khe Sanh, the Hai Lang Forrest, and the Artillery Plateau.

The protagonist of his novel, Jungle Warriors, Crime Fighters (BookBaby, 308 pp., $18.99, paper; $5.99, Kindle) KC Huntington, runs a post-war security company made up of other former Marines. It’s a success and he has a comfortable life, but KC needs more. So he decides to form a secret Special Operations division of his company. The special ops guys then go after criminals who have slipped through the hands of the law.

Using lessons he learned during stealthy maneuvers in the dark in Vietnam, KC and his crew get involved in more and more dangerous situations. KC hires a woman to train his men in sophisticated martial arts. She trains the crew and they kick a lot of butt.

The primary revelation for me in this novel came about a third of the way through.  “One of the things most Americans don’t know is that Vietnamese couldn’t see very well in the dark,” Houser writes. “The notion that they had superior night-vision was a misconception that was reinforced by the fact that the North Vietnamese Army almost always maneuvered under the cover of darkness, thus the saying, ‘They control the night.’”

Why couldn’t the enemy see well after dark? Houser tells us that it had to do with diet.  The Vietnamese ate mostly rice with some fish and therefore lacked the nutrients required to produce the chemicals for a human to develop good night vision, he says.

Which leaves an unanswered question: Given the fact that the enemy “couldn’t see very well in the dark,” how could we lose such an unequal war?

If you are desperate to read a thriller that builds on skills learned in the Vietnam War, Jungle Warriors Crime Fighters might be just the ticket.

On the other hand, if you like reading novels that are reality based, this is probably not the book for you.

The book’s website is junglewarriorscrimefighters.com

—David Willson

Moscow Airlift by Marc Leibman

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Marc Liebman retired as a U.S. Navy Captain after a twenty-four-year career that included serving in the Vietnam War and in Iraq. During his military career, Liebman flew helicopters and fixed wing aircraft and worked with the armed forces of more than a half dozen countries.

Liebman’s latest career is as a novelist writing political thrillers, of which I am a great fan. If you have read any of the books, you’ll be eager to read his latest opus, Moscow Airlift (Penmore Press, 522 pp. $22.49, paper: $2.99, Kindle).

You’ll encounter many of the same characters in these books, including Josh Haman, which is why this group of books is referred to as the Josh Haman series. The new book starts in 1971 in Laos, but most of it takes place in 1991.

In 1991 Russia was suffering from a shortage of food. On the face of it, Josh Haman arrives in Russia to feed the starving. But why him? He is a warrior and well known for derring-do, such as stealing a helicopter and flying it out of a place that was supposed to be escape proof. So Russians are suspicious of Haman from the get go. What is he up to?

They are right to be suspicious, because he is in Russia to steal or incapacitate some suitcase A-bombs, among other things of that nature. In short order, Haman is on the ground, scrambling to evade truckloads of soldiers who are after him.

Not only are foreign soldiers after our hero, but an evil American REMF general is out to ruin Haman’s career by framing him for a bunch of bullshit infractions that he had to commit in order to save the world from nuclear doom. But Haman failed to dot some “i’s” and cross some “t’s,” which were important to that evil general.

We are left hanging until the last moment on whether Josh Haman hangs onto his career, but we’re told there is a sequel to this book, so I suspect that the informed reader will not be too afraid for his career.

I am eager for the sequel.

The author’s website is https://marcliebman.com\

–David Willson

The Peninsula by Michael Burns

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The Peninsula (Amazon Digital Services, 455 pp. $4.99, Kindle) is a novel by Michael Burns about an American plot to assassinate the Supreme Leader of North Korea. The crew of the USS Nemesis, whom readers met in the previous book in this series, The Horn, are an important part of this scheme.

Sailing into the waters of the Korean Peninsula, the Nemesis is tasked with giving support to a highly classified mission to kill Kim Jong-un. If they pull this off, they will avert nuclear war. If they screw up, a nuclear exchange with North Korea is all but guaranteed.

Burns’ novel The Horn also deals with the U.S. Navy–in this case taking on Somali pirates. The pirates have declared war on the Navy, but get more than they bargained for. In the book, a rookie Navy lieutenant must land a SEAL team on the coast of Somalia. The crew includes the first female warfare operators and various specialists, all of whom are disguised as civilians. They sail to shore aboard a luxury yacht equipped with high-tech weapons and the best food and chef that the world has to offer.

Did I mention that the women are all highly trained to wear bikinis, dance, and look like arm and eye candy?

Their mission is to hunt down and kill a dangerous group of pirates who are now connected with Islamic radicals. They team also is after an arms dealer who is supplying the pirates with state-of-the art missiles.

Burns, who served in the Central Highlands in the Vietnam War, writes what he calls “high-concept” novels. I believe this means that they contain a lot of action, beautiful women and fast-paced, extremely difficult stunts and encounter coincidences that are beyond unbelievable.

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Michael Burns

I don’t feel that I’m giving anything away when I confess that the attempt by the specially trained American crew to kill Kim Jong-un in The Peninsula is not successful.

The reason is that a naked teenager who has been raped and tortured by the Supreme Leader finds a razor-sharp knife, hides it in her underwear, and uses it to murder the Leader.

That scene left me scratching my head. I loved it that she killed him with a knife that she hid in her gauzy underwear—but really?

If you love books of this sort, then Peninsula and The Horn are for you.

–David Willson

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

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