In this novel set during the Vietnam War, a U.S. Army investigator tries to solve the mystery of a Caucasian man’s death.
It’s 1970, and George Tanner, a young American military police investigator, is in his 32nd month in South Vietnam. He’s charged with unraveling an unusual case: why did a Caucasian man wearing U.S. military gear walk out of the rain forest 100 kilometers north of Saigon in the middle of the night and straight up to an American infantry outpost? He was killed by the post’s defenders, but he lacked identification and his mission remains enigmatic. During Tanner’s probe, he comes up against the corruption and cynicism surrounding the failing American operation in Vietnam. Tanner’s commanding officer, for example, scoffs at the very idea of a real inquiry: “I don’t give an old whore’s fuck whether your procedures call for a tidy checklist wherein you eliminate possibilities with your Saigon cop buddies. What I want from you is one thing—a finding that the casualty was not an American.” While Tanner follows clues involving a rubber plantation, a showgirl, a warlord, and a wealthy socialite, he also tries to persuade his lover, a Vietnamese woman named Tuyet, to return to America with him, but Saigon is her home. With many forces arrayed against him, Tanner plays a dangerous game. Wallace (The Known Outcome, 2016), a former U.S. Army officer, draws on his experience for verisimilitude, which gives this thriller a solid backing. Tanner’s knowledge of Army procedures derives him as much solid information from repair slips and serial numbers as he gets from tough-guy action sequences—though there are plenty of those. Wallace’s pacing is taut, his characters well developed, and his Vietnamese locations authentic and beautifully evoked. The author also brings forth the war’s horrors and ironies with many well-judged observations, as when Tanner compares the Army to an old Roman road: “Commanders were its stones fitted together to withstand heavy loads”; a corrupt commander “had crumbled like a clay clod under a boot.”
A well-written, thoughtful military thriller that appreciates complexities and tells an exhilarating story.