Church’s (Perfida, 2017) military novel follows two brothers attempting to resolve their past.
It’s 1967. Navy pilot Byron Cooper is about to rotate into service in Vietnam, but he’s annoyed to serve in an outfit full of people who knew his hero father and constantly compare junior to his dad. Mac Cooper was a “World War II ace, he had the USS Hornet sunk out from under him as he took off. The one certifiable major ace from Korea. The guy who took out five MiGs in three days in a museum piece.” What’s more, the reappearance in his life of Mac’s younger French girlfriend, Chloe Minotier —a woman wanted by seemingly every man who meets her—has thrown Byron into a fit of confused emotions. Byron’s younger brother, Laury, is a Marine who just returned—scarred physically and mentally—from Vietnam. Laury believes there’s more to the story of Mac’s 1955 suicide then what the boys were told, and he’s willing to ask uncomfortable questions of anyone in the Navy, regardless of rank. Both brothers feel overshadowed by their father and the unresolved animosity his death caused between the two of them, embodied in the disputed ownership of Mac’s 1948 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. They will come to realize that surviving combat won’t be their greatest challenge. Church writes in a muscular prose that never loses its noirish register. “What does your family grow?” a reporter asks Laury early in the novel. “The bartender put the third double in front of Laury. Laury lit a second cigarette from the ember of the first then ground the first cigarette out in the ashtray. ‘Dead legends.’ ” The plot is straight melodrama, and the ever-brooding Cooper brothers begin to grow a little tiresome. Even so, there’s something compelling about the milieu and the language that keeps the reader engaged, particularly as the mysteries of Mac Cooper begin to unravel. The first in a planned quartet.
A moody family drama set against the quagmire of the Vietnam War.