WORD OF HONOR by Nelson DeMille
Kirkus Star


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After three middling suspense behemoths, DeMille has at last hit a home run with a straightforward dramatic novel focusing on an ex-Army officer being tried for a war crime in Vietnam: his platoon's massacre of doctors, nurses and patients in a French Red Cross hospital staffed by Vietnamese Catholic nuns and some Western personnel--a hospital plainly marked Hospital (in Vietnamese), flying a Viet Cong flag (a sign of surrender in that surreal war), a Red Cross flag and supposedly with a white sheet hung from its windows. Former lieutenant Ben Tyson, 41, a family man with a respected wife and teen-age son and now a high echelon executive with a Japanese-owned aviation electronics company in Manhattan, finds himself singled out as a Lt. Calley-styled monster in the new bestseller Hue: City of Death by Andrew Picard, a former Army public-information officer in Hue (pronounced Way). But Tyson's atrocity was 18 years ago--does the Army still have jurisdiction over this crime? Indeed it does, but that is only part of the marvelous legal machinery being put to the test for the first time in DeMille's inventive plot. While Ben and his family's private lives are exposed by the media, we spend nearly 200 pages of this 520-page blockbuster wondering if Ben will be recalled to active duty for a court-martial and whether the Army even has a case to try. Here is a steamily hot potato for the White House, the Army Judge Advocate General, and the Secretary of the Army--all of whom once mucked up the My Lai war crime trial--and the American people want answers. Meanwhile, various veterans groups start up a defense fund for Ben. Wisely, to sustain suspense, DeMille does not make Ben holier-than-thou--he's an evasive guy, guarding his rear from everyone, including his wife and lawyers. As we discover, the surviving members of his platoon have sworn to a pact of secrecy about what really happened in that hospital, and Ben's word of honor is at the heart of the plot. DeMille balances it all, with strong characterizations and a new maturity of storytelling powers. It's not just his mastery of spellbinding legal minutiae that keeps the voltage at a steady high current. One is completely gripped by the question of what will happen to this haunted, guilt-resistant, essentially honorable man as his life and loved ones are massacred. With Word of Honor (whose court-martial drama bears favorable comparison with Herman Wouk's in The Caine Mutiny), DeMille enters a new class as a big-money novelist engaged with deep-running themes. Strong ad push, likely whopping sales.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1985
ISBN: 0446674826
Publisher: Warner