Brady returns to his beloved Corps (the memoir The Coldest War, 1990) to write his second Marine Corps novel (The Marines of Autumn, 2000).
Here, Brady retells the traditional story of “Billy Port’s Ride”—an epic about US Marines stationed as sentinels in chaotic North China. No authority, in the States, Mongolia, Japan, or Moscow, however, will admit that Billy Port’s ride ever took place. By 1941, four years into the Sino-Japanese War, the treaty cities of Shanghai, Canton, Peking, Tsingtao, and other places flourish, with black Chicago musicians playing swing at Jimmy’s Place in Shanghai, despite Japanese occupation. For ten years, Marines have defended US business interests, doctors, missionaries, nurses, and teachers. Brady is right at home with the tony set at the clubs and on the tennis courts and quickly draws us into China’s wartime atmosphere. Born to Boston Back Bay wealth, Port chose Annapolis over Harvard, then the Marines, was written up for the Medal of Honor for killing Sandinistas in Nicaragua, became known as a blooded killer and barfighter. Port is ordered to move his troops out on a hired tramp steamer; instead he heads an armed convoy (and his Bentley) toward the Great Wall and the Gobi Desert, where he faces “bandits and warlords, Mongol separatists, food riots and fuel shortages, Chiang and the Reds fighting each other, [and] the Japs fighting both. . . .” On the road they hear of Pearl Harbor, know they are at war, see Zeroes flying over them and know that 50 miles of rough country lie ahead. Passing through the Great Wall allows Brady to drum up a wonderfully amusing scene as Port, smiling and saluting with his Navy sword, beheads a bandit general who demands a machine gun as tribute. And then it’s into the frigid Gobi and a trek to the Russian border. After many hurdles, they reach the border and, fatally for Port, the KGB.
Shapely, an absolute natural for film.