Gold in the Coffins by Dominic Certo and Len Harac

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Dominic Certo’s highly praised first novel, The Valor of Francesco D’Amini, was published in 1979. So it has been a long wait for his next one, Gold in the Coffins (Harmita Press, 268 pp., $28.95, hardcover; $18.95, paper; $6.99, Kindle).

Certo served with the 7th Marines in Vietnam.  Co-author Len Harac is “a frequent participant in military-style tactical training programs.”

A terse blurb on the back cover accurately sums up this well-written thriller. “Gold in the Coffins follows the story of a tight band of retired Marines who bonded during a bloody tour of duty in Vietnam, only to find themselves facing a darker enemy back home, the demons of Wall Street.”

The hero, Donnie DeAngelo, enters into a “diabolical venture” with a Wall Street power broker who plans to force DeAngelo into bankruptcy and then loot his company and leave him and his friends with nothing. This world of IPOs and reverse mergers is a mystery to me, but the authors handle the ins and outs of it deftly, making it seem as evil as I always suspected it was.

This system was the one that Donnie and his buddies thought they had fought to protect, but they find that it isn’t set up to protect them. It is mentioned more than once that these Marines did not get heroic welcomes when they returned home. Mention is also made of “all the Napalm, Tear Gas, Agent Orange and explosives” they were exposed to and the possibility that they might have wrecked their brains.

Donnie DeAngelo was a Navy Corpsman who served with the Marines in Vietnam. The loyalty and tight teamwork that was built then is brought in play back home to save the day. I am not going to give away the ending, but I will say that evil Wall Street is defeated in a way that I only wish could happen in real life more often.

The VA is name-checked several times and not in a flattering manner.  John Wayne is also discussed. To wit: “John Wayne never taught us how to deal with losing our amigos, just how to walk tall and kick ass. I wonder why they leave that part out of the movie scripts?”

This is a thoughtful and exciting thriller with lots of Vietnam War references. The flashbacks to the war are the strongest parts of the book.  I’d like to see another war novel from Certo, but until then, this book will do just fine.  I highly recommend it.

Certo’s website is http://dominiccerto.com

—David Willson

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Jaspar’s War by Cym Lowell

Cym Lowell joined the U.S. Navy at eighteen and served two years in the Vietnam War. He then went to college and law school. Jaspar’s War (Rosemary Black Press, 352 pp., $12.99, paper) is his first novel.

There are many connections to the Vietnam War in this thriller, mostly through Nulandi, one of the main characters, who comes to the aid of Jaspar, the titular heroine. Nulandi is a half-Australian aborigine trained as a child to be a professional killer. He practiced this craft in Vietnam, where he saved a Vietnamese family who acted as his disciples when he was on a mission.

Jaspar’s husband disappears in a plane crash and her two children are kidnapped. The entire thrust of the novel is that Jaspar, a socialite with no commando training, steps up to become a warrior. With Nulandi’s help she crusades to get to the bottom of why her husband was apparently killed and her two children kidnapped.

Cym Lowell

She goes on record saying she will do anything to get the children back, and does some amazing things after going through special training. That includes shaving all of the hair off her perfect body.

Jaspar is dangled as bait to the bad guys near the Vatican when she uses an ATM. Later, when she runs naked around a crowded square near the Vatican, much ado is made of her bouncing breasts. They act as a perfect diversion, allowing her and Nulandi  (and Alice, the commando dog) to escape to continue to fight the good fight.

I am leaving out the more far-fetched stuff. That includes the fact that the Queen of England is implicated in the plot to murder Jaspar’s husband and kidnap the children. I hope I am not spoiling anything when I report that the Queen of England did not do any of this bad stuff.

This is the first book I have read in which “the economic health of the world is under attack” and its “only defense is an aborigine, a society woman and a dog.” I highly recommend this book to those looking for a diverting read in which children are kept drugged and in jeopardy from the first page to the last.

In this novel all suites are “palatial,” all vegetables are “fresh,” profiteroles are “famous,” settings are “idyllic,” breasts are “alabaster,” taxis are “speeding,” vistas are “pristine,” and hounds are “trusty.” The writing style got on my nerves. But the book is well-edited and it moves right along.

I predict there will be a sequel, because it is left up in the air if Jaspar’s husband is alive. Nor are we told whether or not Jaspar keeps shaving all the hair off her perfect body, or if she lets it grow back out again.

Perhaps the sequel will settle that question. I hope so. I’ve been brooding about it.

The author’s website is www.cymlowell.com

—David Willson