In Mitchell’s debut novel, an American Vietnam veteran recovers from severe injuries and wrestles with memories of war.
After his mother dies in an automobile accident, Kelly O’Brian enlists in the Army and serves as a first lieutenant in the infantry in a treacherous stretch of wilderness, the Ho Bo Woods of Vietnam. In May 1969, he’s badly wounded, and after an extended convalescence in Japan, he returns to the United States and pursues a college degree in Florida. Kelly manages to build a life with all the trappings of success and happiness; he eventually heads a multibillion-dollar construction company, marries a woman he deeply loves, and raises a beautiful daughter. Nevertheless, he’s haunted by the trauma that he experienced during the war, and by the “sleeping devils inside of him” that are sometimes awakened when he faces danger. The latter happens with implausible frequency in Mitchell’s novel. While overseeing the construction of a highway through the Panamanian jungle, for example, Kelly is forced to contend with armed bandits; later, he kills a man who’s assaulting a woman and thwarts a terrorist takeover of a commercial plane. The heart of the story, though, is the protagonist’s search for emotional resolution. After a tragedy, he can no longer postpone his need for closure; he experiences a dramatic longing that takes him back to the beginning of his trials—the Ho Bo Woods. The author impressively brings to life the macabre horror of war, and his depictions of frenzied combat have an unalloyed feeling of realism. However, the overall plot isn’t as believable as these scenes are, and what begins as an intriguing psychological drama eventually degrades into a clichéd tale of action and adventure. Also, Mitchell’s prose, and particularly the dialogue, can feel inauthentic and overwritten. For example, when Kelly first asks out his future wife, Cindy, she stiltedly tells him, “Kelly, you seem like a really nice guy. You’re courteous, and you speak well. Even with that dueling scar on your cheek you’re rather handsome.”
A promising tale of an ex-soldier, hampered by a meandering, implausible plot.