Girardi (The Wrong Doyle, 2004, etc.) pits the French Foreign Legion against Muslim fanatics.
Since Louis Philippe founded the Legion in 1831, its lost-soul volunteers fight in the most desolate corners of the globe mostly because they have nothing better to do with their lives. American musical comedy actor John Smith winds up in the Legion after a disastrous trip to Istanbul that results in the murder of the girlfriend who jilted him for a wealthy Turk. Sous-lieutenant Evariste Pinard, a French Canadian drug dealer and enforcer for a Russian loan shark in France, chose the Legion over prison and deportation. And they’re two of the more savory recruits in Girardi’s nastily realistic rogues’ gallery. Yet it’s such an honor to whip lost souls like these into military shape that only the best of France’s aristocratic officer class, like Colonel Philippe de Noyer, are deemed worthy to serve in the Legion. Unfortunately, Noyer is also possessed of a hereditary tendency toward madness, sparked in his case by a particularly ugly encounter with a fundamentalist Islamic insurgency in the Western Sahara. The creepy Marabouts, who decapitate their enemies and initiate members with bee stings, are mostly an excuse for lots of action sequences featuring vastly outnumbered Legionnaires grimly holding strongholds soon to be overrun by bloodthirsty savages, or charging into hordes of similar savages crying “à moi la Legion!” This genre hasn’t changed much since Beau Geste, and Girardi is content to stick to the formula of men with dark pasts loyal only to each other, “or else what were they but a bunch of murderers?” Characterizations are brisk and vivid, as the story whips along toward a violent climax with a nice surprise twist, followed by one Legionnaire’s predictable decision to forsake the chance of love and a fresh start for more brutalization by the military.
Nothing new here, but an entertaining 21st-century variant on the classic adventure tale.