This concluding novel in a trilogy examines three American lives that intersect during the Vietnam War.
Cathy Addison, a nurse stationed in Vietnam, is brutally beaten and repeatedly raped by a psychopath, Ray Slaugh, who was stalking her best friend and colleague, Barbara Mandera. Dion Murphy, Cathy’s boyfriend, enraged when he discovers what happened, tracks down Ray and kills him in self-defense. Soon after, Cathy shows up (it’s unclear how she too found Ray when the military could not), and shoots his corpse in a fuguelike fit of fury. Dion, a Marine lieutenant, enlists the help of a first sergeant to doctor the scene of the shooting, but military investigators figure out that he and Cathy are likely responsible, and prepare to prosecute both. Meanwhile, Cathy resigns her post and returns to Minnesota, pulverized by distress, especially after she learns she is pregnant as a result of the rape. Dion travels back to the United States to pledge his loyalty to her and marry her, and to stand by her side when they inevitably face trial. Meanwhile, Norman Coddington, a fighter pilot, finally learns that his girlfriend, Barbara, lied about her past—she was once a prostitute and sex slave, and hails from inauspicious beginnings. Norm leaves her, and Barbara, extremely distraught, attempts suicide. Shortly after, Norm is shot down flying over North Vietnam and captured, and the appalling ordeal forces him to reconsider his judgment of Barbara. The harrowing account of Norm’s treatment in captivity by the enemy continues the series’ commitment to a realistic, if often gruesome, portrayal of war. But this is the weakest of the three volumes, mostly because the narrative focus shifts from the war itself, Hardy’s (Whisper In My Ear, 2015, etc.) strong suit, and devolves into a soap opera. Furthermore, the writing remains just as cloyingly earnest as in the first two installments, and riddled with clichés: “It is better to have loved and lost than to not have loved at all.” And repeating the pattern of the first two volumes, the final book is indefensibly long at 806 pages. Despite the tale’s powerful depiction of Norm’s experience as a prisoner of war, readers won over by the first book may be disappointed by the last.
While offering some enthralling accounts of war, this book delivers a frustratingly anticlimactic end to an otherwise strong series.