First-novelist West’s personal experience as a Marines officer hangs over these pages—and why not, when they’re folded into the plot with excitingly assured prose? West recounts with tragic wit the war in Somalia, with every metallic snick of a machine-gun bolt authentic and in place. He opens on an elite Marine platoon in night-vision goggles making a night assault on a Somalia beach in the iridescent Indian Ocean. About 80 reporters are there, at the ready to record the invasion as it takes place and simultaneously transmit it to an eager US public waiting at its televisions. Commanding officers themselves follow the invasion on CNN and comment on who’s hogging the cameras or being interviewed mid-battle by star reporter Mary Thayer-Ash. “We’re not exactly following Suntzu’s advice on surprise here,” comments Lieutenant Gavin Kelly, a third-generation Marine. He’s here to bring peace and feed starving children, but rival warlords rule Somalia and steal the multinational food aid; firefights erupt; mobs fight the Marines; kids have rifles and get killed; Thayer-Ash takes a hit; and in a war without rules Kelly winds up facing a court-martial.
The rounds are singing off Clancy’s helmet.