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

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

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

Forgotten by Marc Liebman

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Marc Liebman received his Navy commission in 1968, and became an aviator the following year. He retired as a Captain after serving for twenty-four years in the Navy. His military career took him all over the world, and included service in the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War. During that time he also worked with the armed forces of Australia, Canada, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, and with the British Royal Navy.

His novel, Forgotten (Deeds, 594 pp., $25.57, paper), deals with six men who did not come home when the North Vietnamese returned the American POWs in 1973. The men had never been reported as POWs, but were listed as missing in action. The Vietnamese, in the person of NVA Lt. Col. Pham, use the Americans as laborers in a heroin factory. The colonel’s goal is to keep the men alive and ransom them for millions.

Back in the U.S., Janet, the wife of one of the POWs, is an strident antiwar activist. She fills her waiting time and sexual needs by becoming a highly paid assassin, taking on high-value targets around the world.

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Marc Liebman

Often this book read like a pop culture inventory. Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Sam Peckinpah, The Bridge over the River Kwai, Almond Joy, SDS, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Rolex, Carlos Hathcock (the famed Vietnam War sniper) get more than a mention.

This is a giant whopper of a sex thriller with violence and bloodshed on most pages, along with that nymphomanical ex-antiwar activist turned assassin. If you love books like this, it’s the one is for you. It is predictable, however, as I was not surprised when Janet, the hit woman, was contracted to kill her own husband.

Forgotten is well written and held this reader’s attention throughout.

—David Willson

For No Good Reason by Steve Banko

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Steve Banko dedicates his firs novel, For No Good Reason (No Frills Buffalo/Amelia Press, 318 pp., $14.95, paper), to the 1st Cavalry Division Garryowen troopers of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry who fought and died on December 3, 1968. Banko served sixteen months in Vietnam where he was wounded six times and received the Silver Star in addition to his four Purple Hearts.

For No Good Reason is a blood and guts Army infantry novel. My impression is that Banko drew heavily on his own wartime experiences for the narrative. In the acknowledgements he informs the reader that John Holcomb, his good friend, died saving Banko’s life on December 3, 1968, and that Holcomb was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. Banko made it home to grow old and bald.

For No Good Reason namechecks both the usual and the unusual, including John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Sgt. York, Racquel Welch, Goldie Hawn, and Superman. Shit is burned in the rear and we are admonished to get the hell out of Dodge, and that we “gotta get out of this place.” The place is Indian Country where Pancho Villa is also making a stand. The “hurting kangaroo” I encountered was new to me. I predict I’ll not see him again.

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Steve Banko

The writing is made up of short sentences and punchy expressions. Here is a typical example:

“I was thinking of our next move when some screaming and shooting came from our right. Our two buddies got a bead on the machine gun when he opened fire on us and assaulted from behind it. It was like John Wayne and Audie Murphy came flying to our rescue. They were shooting and screaming and acting all kinds of crazy. When one gook fell from the tree, we got the message and started shooting too. When we stopped to reload, everything was quiet.”

Banko’s prose hooks the reader and never lets go.

I recommend this war thriller to those who have not overdosed on infantry action books.  It moves right along, never stopping for idle moments.

—David Willson

Arizona Moon by J.M. Graham

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J. M. Graham enlisted in the U. S. Navy in 1965 and served as a corpsman in Vietnam with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines in 1967. His novel Arizona Moon (Naval Institute Press, 320 pp., $29.95), tells an exciting combat story of three men whose lives are intertwined in Vietnam.

In the course of this well-written, involving Vietnam War in-country combat novel we get to know these three men well—Cpl. Raymond Strader, a Marine Corps squad leader who has just a few days left in his tour of duty; Lance Cp. Noche Gonshayee (Moon), an Apache warrior caught between two cultures; and the “enemy,” Truong Nghi, who is involved in a pre-Tet Offensive munitions transfer and who is a patriotic zealot.

Cpl. Strader has two days and a wakeup left in country when the helicopter he’s on goes down with Moon on board. They are taken captive by Truong Nghi and the three end up playing a game of cat and mouse in the Ong Tu Mountains. The NVA desperately tries to protect its cargo. The Marines, who never leave a comrade behind, try to retrieve their brothers-in-arms.

I agree that, as the cover claims, this novel is “compelling and relentless.” This is one of the best of the Marine Corps Vietnam War thrillers I’ve read, and I highly recommend it.

We get lots of cowboy and Indian imagery, a debunking of John Wayne, the myth of the Island of the Black Clap, much ham-and-motherfucker talk, rear echelon bashing, seeing of the elephant, and Iwo Jima references. ARVNs are bashed, too.

All the usual stuff, that is, plus an exciting thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat.

If you are looking for a Marine Corps thriller, make this your next one.

—David Willson

Secret Choices by Tom Puetz

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Tom Puetz’s Secret Choices (Dragon Tale Books, 232 pp., $14.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle) is a book of fiction. But Puetz draws heavily on his own personal history for the meat of his narrative. He grew up on a farm in Indiana, served as an infantry sergeant in the Vietnam War, and was honorably discharged in December 1969.

He shares with the main character, Tom Warden, an employment record of twenty years of random jobs of all kinds, until he found stability. The book alternates chapters between his time in South Vietnam and 1984 in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, at his high school reunion. The book ends in 1970 in Freeland, Indiana, when Tom has been back from Vietnam for two months and attending Indiana University in Bloomington.

He’d made this plan because that was what he was going to before he got drafted. But Tom can’t stick to a plan made when he was a very different man. Then comes twenty years of trying to find himself. The black dog of rage follows him everywhere. He keeps a sidearm with him at all times and an ice cooler of beer in the back of his pickup truck.

This is one of the rare Vietnam War infantry novels in which the return-home section is well developed. Tom Warden gets involved in an interesting and believable subplot involving numbers running and murder. He handles himself well and does not become a patsy. I won’t become a spoiler and say any more.

Secret Choices is a worthy, well-written novel. Both male and female characters are fleshed out and engrossing to read about. This reader cared about the people on these pages.  The cover—which is misleading to say the least—is striking nevertheless.

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Tom Puetz

Secret Choices explores serious issues such as the treatment Vietnam veterans received when they returned home and realized that their country was lost to them. I remember the aloneness I felt when I returned to Seattle from Binh Hoa—something Puetz effectively evokes in the last chapters of the book. This makes Secret Choices much more than just a thriller, which it also is.

Thanks to Tom Puetz for a very good first novel.

His website is secretchoices.homestead.com

—David Willson