Taking a break from his fluffy satires of summering glitterati (The House That Ate the Hamptons, 1999, etc.), Parade and Advertising Age columnist Brady, delivers a bitter, despairing novel of the valiant but futile stand by US Marines against the Chinese Army at the Chosin Reservoir..
Having survived combat at Guadalcanal, US Marine Captain Tom Verity had had enough of war. In 1950, Verity, a widower with a three-year old daughter, looks forward to another semester teaching Chinese language at Georgetown when he's called back into uniform and sent to Korea. There, he's given a jeep, a fancy radio, a respectful, history-quoting Sergeant Tate, and the wisecracking, street-wise South Philadelphia driver Izzo. Ordered to head north, to the snowy Korean highlands bordering China, he is to listen to Chinese radio transmissions and determine if the they’re aiding Korean Communist forces. A pawn in a bureaucratic conflict between Marine commanders and General MacArthur, who has divided American forces along the Korea-Chinese border in anticipation of a quick end to the hostilities, Verity quickly discovers what the Marines have suspected and MacArthur refuses to believe: that the Chinese have mobilized to invade from the north. After an agonizing build-up, they attack in human waves, demolishing entire battalions before retreating into the snowbound hills. Verity, Tate, and Izzo fight their way through a series of devastating, gut-wrenching combat scenes, then join the remnants of the American forces on a humiliating retreat through punishing attacks and brutal cold. Their final, tragic (and somewhat unconvincing) response to so much wasted life is to make sure that one of their fallen comrades will not be left on foreign soil.
Gloomy, gory, and furiously critical of MacArthur, Brady's second take on the Korean War (after his 1990 memoir, The Coldest War) throws ice water on mindlessly gung-ho military thrillers, concluding that the only good things about war are the honor and decency of the few good men who fight it. (two pages maps, not seen)