In this debut military thriller about the early days of the Vietnam War, an Air Force airman deals with war, women, drugs and deranged superiors.
In 1964, Airman Austin Mars finds himself in Vietnam, shanghaied into being a part of a rogue colonel’s private smuggling operations. One bloody skirmish at a remote jungle landing strip persuades him to get out before it’s too late. He needs money to bribe his way to a discharge, so he accepts an offer from a mysterious Chinese woman to transport heroin for a Chinese triad. Between clandestine flights to Laos, Mars beds various women and tries to outguess the military, the triad, North Vietnamese spies and the CIA. The novel’s characters are quite vivid and engaging, and the multifaceted plot is intriguing. Unfortunately, it often stumbles due to its fast pace, as too much happens too soon. In just over a week, Mars seduces three women (an American officer, a North Vietnamese agent and a Chinese smuggler), gets on the wrong side of the colonel and the CIA, and starts working for Chinese gangsters. Some events happen too conveniently: women find him, save him and seduce him; people from all sides readily offer him smuggling work; and his friends just happen to be around whenever he needs them. There are also some anachronisms; a fellow airman casually admits he’s gay, for example, and New Zealand red wines weren’t much good until the late 1970s. The characters also tend to talk too much, particularly the military men—a narrative choice that moves the plot along but undercuts the suspense. The story inadequately develops Mars’ relationships with the two Asian women, and the sex scenes are superficial throughout. Occasionally, there’s a lack of necessary explanatory detail, as well; finding a plane for smuggling and getting drugs onto an air base seems to happen too easily, and the descriptions of military bases, Saigon and the jungle don’t evoke tangible senses of place.
A thriller with some interesting characters, but hampered by an overly complex, inadequately realized plot.