Men Come Home From Work… Late by Galen Hobbs

The plot of Galen Hobbs’ Men Come Home From Work…Late  (AuthorHouse, 364 pp., $31.99, hardcover; $19.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle) involves two men escaping from two POW camps twenty years after the end of the American war in Vietnam War. Jake, who is in the Air Force, and Crow, a Navy SEAL, meet by chance and join forces to try to evade the Vietnamese Army.

When they arrive in Laos, they are joined by a Marine named Ed and by a woman named  Michelle, who appears to have no military affiliation.

They are pursued by a drug gang who are trying to kill them. The United States Embassy also wants them dead. They head west with many obstacles to deal with, harboring the hope in their hearts that they might link up with their families.

The book begins with an author’s note that the novel takes no position on the question of whether Americans were left behind “knowingly or unknowingly” in Vietnam as prisoners of war. Hobbs says he made up all characters’ names, places, and incidents.

Before the story begins, there are two pages of the something called “19 Rogers’ Rules.” The first rule is, “Don’t forget nothing.” The book does give the appearance of having included everything necessary to make the story move right along.

Galen Hobbs

This is a complex tale which seems somewhat muddled, but it held my interest.

The book, in essence, does make a case that the Vietnamese kept Americans after the war. However, it failed to convince me that there were any good reasons to do so.

Readers eager for another Vietnam War POW book could do much worse than to read this one.

I read it in one long sitting.

The author’s website is http://www.ghobbsauthor.com

–David Willson

The Thin Wall by R. Cyril West

R. Cyril West was in elementary school during the Vietnam War. His novel, The Thin Wall (Molon Labe Books, 336 pp., $12.95, paper; $2.99, Kindle), takes place at the height of the war in 1968. It is set in Mersk in Bohemia in the former nation of Czechoslovakia during he time when the Russians crossed the frontier and took over the country. This time of uproar is used as a cover by the main villain of the book, Colonel Gregori Dal, to abduct an American Vietnam War POW and use him for his own ends.

Gunnery Sergeant Russell Edward Johnston, a red-haired American captured by the Viet Cong, was supposed to be executed and buried in an unmarked grave deep in the Bohemian forest. That’s what the Kremlin ordered.

But Dal had been recruited by a splinter KBG group to smuggle him to East Germany and then to Cuba where Johnston would become “a prized trophy for Castro.”  I have no idea why he would be a trophy—and West never tells us.

The author uses Johnston as a sort of a Hitchcockian MacGuffin to sustain the story and keep the novel’s plot moving along.

R. Cyril West

This may sound like another piece of fictional POW claptrap, but this book is not. It is a literate and literary novel. Milan Kundera, Josef Skvorecky, Franz Kafka, and other great writers are referenced. Colonel Dal burns some of their books in a public fountain. Elvis and Beatles LPs are also destroyed.

There is a large cast of well-developed characters and the author has provided a useful guide to them in the front of the book. There is a beautiful, young single mother the colonel becomes fixated on. She also is the object of attention from a doctor, an undercover spy long forgotten by his handlers. There is even a politically incorrect “village idiot” who is much more than comic relief.

Johnston may appear be just a plot device, but his back story is explained so that when bad things happen we feel badly for him. “He was on his second tour,” West writes, “just three months from leaving ‘Nam when it happened. Johnston and two other Marines. They were on a patrol when they came under heavy fire and were separated from their platoon.”

The men eventually fell into the hands of Russian intelligence agents who decide to hand them over to Soviet psychologists to be analyzed and then used as human guinea pigs in science experiments.

I enjoyed this novel. I even bought into some of the Cold War paranoia. The tragedy of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia is well-demonstrated in this book, which is a POW thriller only on its surface.

There is a lot more going on in this well-written book. I recommend it.

The author’s website is www.rcyrilwest.com

—David Willson