Peter Carini’s The Last Red-Line Brig (Austin Macauley, 320 pp., $25.95, hardcover; $16.95, paper; $4.41, Kindle) is a work of fiction that is based on a true story. Carini is a short story writer and English teacher in the San Francisco Bay area.
His novel’s hero, Joe Carini, is a youthful renegade, independent thinker, compassionate husband, and a corpsman in the U.S. Navy near the beginning of the Vietnam War. Never an ambitious man, but tended to do an honest day’s work while daydreaming. He had no interest in war or in learning military discipline.
He ends up in the Navy, assigned to a place known as the “red-line brig” among “hardened, unaccommodating Marines and even less friendly inmates.” The brig’s toughest area is called “dimrats,” and it is nothing short of a nauseating torture chamber.
Joe Carini struggles to conform to the standards of his assignment, but pisses off the Marines and his superior officers at every opportunity. This puts him in frequent danger of becoming an inmate in dimrats himself.
The characters in this book have the sort of nicknames those of us who have read a lot of Vietnam War novels have become accustomed to: Pvt. Unibrow, Sgt. Serious, and No Neck.
If you read this book attentively, you will learn the duties of an assignment to a Red-Line Brig, and books that treat military jobs seriously and thoroughly are rare. That makes this one a valuable resource for military scholars and students of incarceration during the Vietnam War.
I found the novel engrossing and hard to put down. It is well edited and well written and tells a good story. Agent Orange is mentioned in one paragraph and the long-term consequences of exposure to that dangerous toxin are emphasized.
Novels of wartime military incarceration are rare. This is one of the very best.
I highly recommend it.