A Vietnam-era veteran recalls his childhood, leading up to a defining moment as a military policeman in Germany.
It's hard to tell whether author Ryan (Vaudeville in the Dark, 2010, etc.) is playing fast and loose with the truth in his sort-of war memoir. Ultimately, veracity doesn’t matter much for a story in which nothing much happens. The launch is intriguing—military policeman Rick Ryan is being threatened by soldiers loyal to Staff Sgt. Elija Perkins, who's been arrested by Ryan and his partner for bootlegging cigarettes. There's also the tease of a fatal denouement: “And then it hit me: what kind of a story did I have to tell? I’d never been in real combat, though maybe I’d killed someone.” From there, it’s a lot of flashbacks to a relatively idyllic childhood in Janesville, Wisconsin, and the occasional flash forward to a peaceful adulthood in the present day. Mostly it tells how Ryan got from Wisconsin to Germany, working his assignments while the Baader-Meinhof gang carries out their ultraviolence nearby. After consulting with draft resisters and failing to mutilate himself to get out of the war, Ryan enlists. He's trained as a military policeman and deployed in Germany under a diverse rogue’s gallery of commanders. Weird side note: He talks to Albert Speer in his dreams. The married but unfaithful Ryan also takes a lover who threatens him with retribution from her Baader-Meinhof friends, which kicks off that murky ending we mentioned earlier. The book’s difficulty comes in wanting to have it both ways, leaving it unconvincing as a thriller yet lacking the emotional depth to qualify as a cautionary tale.
A novel that tries to marry the internal conflict of Tim O'Brien to the novelist style of Nelson DeMille but can’t quite stick the landing.