The lives of three very different men intersect on an aircraft carrier in this Vietnam-era military thriller.
At the end of 1967, the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga is stationed off the Vietnam coast. Onboard are Ogilvy Osborne, a former combat veteran, the ship’s chaplain; Lt. Augustine “Ti” Campbell, a hotshot aviator; and Lt. Robert Cannon, an up-and-coming staff officer. As Campbell flies missions over the Ho Chi Minh trail on the Laos-Vietnam border, Cannon is being groomed for advancement. The only problem: The FBI has taken notice of his fiancée’s anti-war activities at Columbia University. Meanwhile, the war is taking a turn for the worse. North Vietnam’s army attacks the city of Hue during the traditional Tet New Year’s truce then begins a six-month assault on the U.S. Marine combat base at Khe Sanh. Campbell is shot down and suffers horrific deprivation in a prison camp as he plots his escape. Cannon’s temper gets him in trouble with his superiors, threatening to derail his career. Ogilvy transfers to Khe Sanh to minister to the besieged Marines. The author of two previous military thrillers, Partel (The Chess Players, 2011, etc.) served on aircraft carriers from 1965 to ’68. The military details and dialogue are thus impressive, giving palpable authenticity to the story and the characters’ interactions. Partel illuminates not just the war but the internal conflicts of those who had to fight it, from religious doubt to social upheaval. The result is a ripping, visceral read. Unfortunately, the book is held back by some substantial defects. There are several typos and usage errors—e.g., “flaunt” for flout, “deport” for comport, etc.—and the military jargon is often overused and unnecessarily confusing. Also, Heart of Darkness took place in Africa, not the Amazon. More importantly, there is an overreliance on dialogue to carry some of the action scenes; more visual descriptions would better orient the reader. Finally, the religious inner dialogues of Osborne and Campbell often come across as stilted and unconvincing.
A riveting tale of war that stumbles a few too many times.