Prewitt’s (Snake Walkers, 2005) mystery confronts the wages of both war and racial conflict.
Anthony Andrews, a black reporter for the Washington Post in 1969, is tasked with finding positive depictions of the black soldier’s experience in Vietnam, what his editor calls “hero stories.” Andrews is embedded in an active, combat-ready unit and given an eye-opening taste of the horrors of war. He sees seven black soldiers return from some nebulous mission shrouded in mystery. Andrews learns that those seven—originally 15—are returning from a harrowing experience no one seems anxious to discuss. He also discovers that their alleged mission was more like penance for what may have been a riot, uprising, or some kind of brawling melee that involved more than 40 black soldiers angry at their white superiors for mistreatment. After two months investigating the story and hitting a dead end, Andrews returns stateside, haunted by the trauma of his violent experience. Andrews’ angry and disillusioned wife eventually leaves him, and his once-peaceful life starts to unravel. He finally receives an unsolicited phone call that potentially promises to move him closer to the truth about his stonewalled case. This is a nuanced exploration of the racial tensions that express themselves within the pressurized context of war. Prewitt does a fine job allowing those tensions to reveal themselves through the characters rather than through authorial proselytizing. Some of the plot development, though, seems needlessly compressed and, as a result, melodramatic. Andrews is quick to fall apart after his first frightening experience in Vietnam, just as his wife is inexplicably ready to leave him with their young child after a few weeks of arguments over domestic banalities. Also, some narrative anomalies are more distracting than gripping: one soldier, nicknamed Professor, aids his comrades with his psychic abilities. As a whole, however, this is an intelligently crafted tale, brimming with both suspense and social commentary.
A fresh re-examination of race in the military.