A military widow’s searing nonfiction account of her husband’s murder and the court-martial that acquitted his accused killer.
This debut began as a personal journal after Allen received notification that her spouse, Lt. Louis Allen, had been killed on June 8, 2005, four days after arriving in Iraq. His base assignment at one of Saddam Hussein’s former Tikrit palaces was considered safer than most. His old friend and base commander, Capt. Phillip Esposito, had recruited him specifically to fix supply problems attributed to Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez, with whom Esposito had an escalating dispute. As Allen and Esposito sat indoors playing a board game, an explosion tore through a window, killing them both. An investigation revealed that it wasn’t an enemy attack but a homicide: a wire-detonated claymore mine had propelled hundreds of ball bearings through the window. (Claymores are labeled “Front Toward Enemy,” hence the book’s title.) Martinez, who had openly threatened Esposito, had access to claymores, and was seen outside the blast site shortly afterward, was charged with murder. The military justice system plodded through procedural delays, and the defense got Martinez’s interrogation suppressed. At trial, three years later, the defense portrayed a bungled investigation that ignored other suspects, and Martinez was found not guilty. True-crime aficionados will appreciate Allen’s blow-by-blow chronicle of the trial. General readers, though, might find it tedious; however, it sets the stage for the author’s indignation, vindicated after the trial by her discovery of secretly suppressed evidence. Allen is on a mission to expose this injustice in this book, and she fights unsparingly and convincingly against institutional inertia and outright deceit. Beyond its indictment of a flawed military justice system, the book’s strongest suit is Allen’s intimate memoir of the pain and suffering borne by a widow and four young children as they rebuilt their lives. Its sentence fragments reinforce its diaristic quality and evoke halting progress (“Jeremy. Our baby. One and a half-years old and such a little maniac”). Its characterizations and pacing are also effective. Allen never shrinks from honest appraisal, however raw, even of her own conflicting urges and perceived shortcomings. She writes unevenly at times, but at her best, she translates visceral emotions to concrete language with uncommon power and clarity.
Poignant and persuasive.