In the author’s debut thriller, a Vietnam vet becomes a one-man rescue team when his daughter and grandchildren are abducted and taken to Saigon.
Former Army Capt. Travis Kelly is escorted to Washington, D.C., and questioned by the Department of Homeland Security. It seems his company commander in Vietnam, who’d been doing work for Travis, has been assassinated—and all of it somehow connects to a man Travis killed during the war. Nguyen Li Minh, the son of the man Travis killed and the reputed grandson of Ho Chi Minh, hopes to bring the former captain back to Vietnam by kidnapping his daughter, Jen, and her four children. McMahan’s novel begins as a murder mystery, but the killer's motivations are soon made known, allowing the novel to focus on suspense and action. The combat scenes in 1969 Vietnam are unquestionably the best moments in the book—riveting and intense. In fact, they tend to overshadow present-day events. The most significant flashback to ’69 is the rescue of two pilots, a story that Travis tells to Martha, his fellow passenger on a lengthy plane ride. Travis’ son, Sgt. Brad Kelly, has an ally in Homeland Security Deputy Director Erin Stephens. Brad and Erin also set out to save Jen and her children. The contrary behavior of estranged father and son generates great dramatic conflict: Brad goes through the proper channels and cooperates with authorities, whereas Travis, who distrusts all things government, tiptoes into Ho Chi Minh City under a false ID. Readers will likely guess where Brad and Erin’s relationship is headed, but it could have used more development, consisting mostly of Brad’s eyeing or admiring her physical traits. On the other hand, Travis’ bond with his late wife, Claire, who succumbed to cancer long before the narrative begins, is endearing. He remembers her fondly and daydreams of her when he’s in a dire circumstance. The book’s patriotism occasionally becomes too syrupy, but it’s clear that McMahan, a former Army captain like his protagonist, has great respect for soldiers and officers alike.
Tightly paced Vietnam scenes and a venerable lead character make for an inspired first novel.