The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2003
BOOKS IN REVIEW
   
 

A Bestseller To Avoid:
Patterson's Vet-Bashing Four Blind Mice

BY MARC LEEPSON


James Patterson writes potboiling bestsellers. Big bestsellers. Big bestsellers overflowing with rape, murder, and other forms of violent mayhem. Some, such as Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls, become movies. Readers, who vote at their bookstores, seem to love his stuff. Reviewers react, at best, with yawns. 

I was aware of Patterson's reputation, although I had never read any of his books, when I picked up his latest detective/thriller Four Blind Mice (Little, Brown, 387 pp., $27.95). The book rocketed up the bestseller lists when it came out in November; hundreds of thousands of copies were gobbled up by Patterson's many fans. The few reviews I read were lukewarm. 

Here's my verdict. You could characterize it as ice cold. I found Four Blind Mice utterly without merit. The plot is thin; the characters, cardboard. The dialogue does not approach any speech ever heard outside of an English-as-a-second-language classroom. The writing is artless.

Worst of all, the book contains four of the most sociopathic, ultraviolent, demonic Vietnam veterans ever presented between hardcovers. 

The plot involves D.C. detective Alex Cross's quest to discover who framed his old buddy for the grisly murders of three women. The buddy is a Nam vet. Similar murders occur; more Nam vets take the raps. Believe it or not, all is not as it seems, and Cross and a fellow investigator get to the bottom of things. The key is--guess what?--a massive atrocity that took place in Nam. The bad guys are cleaning up the evidence. Why they wait three decades to do so is an open question. 

Cross, in a plot device lifted from every James Bond movie and countless other thrillers, is captured by the bad guys--not once, but twice--but they don't kill him right away. That gives them a chance to explain themselves and Cross a chance to make miraculous escapes so that the good guys win.  

FICTION IN BRIEF 

Kien Nguyen's The Tapestries (Little, Brown, 311 pp., $24.95) is mostly a delight to read. This novel of early 20th century Vietnam has believable characters (a few of whom are perhaps too broadly drawn) and a roller-coaster plot with plenty of surprises woven around a Romeo-Juliet theme. The author, an expatriate who wrote the commendable memoir The Unwanted, was inspired to concoct this satisfying Emperor's Palace epic by the stories his grandfather, a former tapestry weaver, told him as a child.   

Russell E. Savage Jr.'s Doc Randall's Revenge (Protea Publishing, 257 pp., $19.98, paper) is a well-constructed, semiautobiographical novel that flashes back and forth from the late sixties to the late nineties. The author, a top-flight cancer researcher, served as a Marine in the Vietnam War. To learn more about Marine Vietnam veteran Thomas T. Kemp's autobiographical novel, The Road From Here to Where You Stay (E-mail, $10, floppy disk, $11, printed, $25), go to www.thomaskep.com

Michael J. Jett's Secret Games (Gardenia Press, 257 pp., $17.95, paper) is a smooth novel that deals with the capture of a CIA agent in 1968 in Cambodia. The author served as an Army FAC and aviation battalion adjutant in Vietnam. Bob Lupo's A Buffalo's Revenge (iUniverse, 205 pp., $24.95) is a readable, fast-moving, in-country Vietnam War story that also deals with the political issues of the late sixties. The author was an Army medic in Vietnam. 

Dan Dane's Conduct To the Prejudice of Good Order--the Final Years of the Vietnam War (iUniverse, 190 pp., $14.95, paper) is set near Bien Hoa in 1971-72 and deals with a drafted Army attorney's trials and tribulations. The author himself was a First Cav JAG officer in Bien Hoa during that time. Victoria Brooks's Red Dream (Greatest Escapes, 321 pp., $15, paper) is a romantic adventure set in Vietnam and France in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, involving a Vietnamese woman, her French lover, and their Eurasian daughter. 

Noted Vietnamese dissident novelist Duong Thu Huong's Beyond Illusions (Hyperion, 244 pp., $23.95), written in 1986, has been published in English for the first time. The book, translated by Nina McPherson and Phan Huy Duong, follows the rocky course of a group of young people after the American War. As she usually does, Duong Thu Huong is not afraid to criticize the repressive actions of her government. 

Sam McGowan's The Cave (1st Books, $16.50, paper), is a well-rendered tale that follows a young Air Force EM shot down while on a secret mission over Laos in 1966. McGowan served as a USAF C-130 crew member in Vietnam. Richard Galli's Remfs: Peanuts, Fish Farms, Hog Hormones and Broken Hearts (RGA, 303 pp., $19.95, hardcover; $12.95, paper) is an autobiographical comic novel based on the author's tour as a draftee Army interpreter in a Civil Affairs unit on Hue.

Daniel Buckman's novel, The Names of Rivers (Akashic Books, 197 pp., $21), revolves around ``crazy'' Vietnam veterans. In this case, one character who was maimed at Khe Sanh and is a pathetic drunk wallowing in self pity, and another who is trying to kick his heroin habit. It makes for depressing reading.  

FOR CHILDREN 

Newberry Award-winning children's author Joan Bauer's Stand Tall(Putnam, 184 pp., $16.99) deals with a 12-year-old boy and his family troubles. One main character in this well-executed novel aimed at kids ages ten and up, is the grandfather, a Vietnam veteran who is an amputee and is portrayed as a positive force in his grandson's life. ``You've got to welcome people back when they've been through a war,'' Bauer writes after town folk survive a flood.

``Nobody understands that more than a Vietnam vet.'' 

Patrol: An American Soldier in Vietnam (HarperCollins, $16.95) is a spare, evocative, poetic look at an American infantryman in the heart of jungle combat in Vietnam. It is written by prolific children's author Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Ann Grifalconi. Myers, whose Vietnam War novel for young adults, Fallen Angels, is the best of its genre, here presents a realistic portrait for the 8-12-year-old audience of an intense African-American soldier on patrol. The collages by Grifalconi fit the story well. The book, at heart, contains an antiwar message, mainly because the soldier, when he comes face to face with the enemy, puts down his rifle. 

KHE SANH UP CLOSE
 

John Corbett's West Dickens Avenue: A Marine at Khe Sanh (Presidio, 208 pp., $24.95) is a short, readable account of his days on Khe Sanh during the infamous January-April 1968 siege. Corbett served at Khe Sanh in a mortar platoon with the 26th Marine Regiment. Within days after his arrival at the remote outpost near the borders of Laos and North Vietnam, the NVA siege began. Corbett narrowly escaped death twice. Once, a sniper's bullet whistled through his hair; another time he was blown into a bunker by an artillery blast but was miraculously untouched by the ensuing rain of shrapnel.  

His brief, staccato sentences effectively convey the siege from a Marine grunt's point of view.

Corbett skips lightly over his last nine months in Vietnam, during which he saw plenty more combat action. His brief description of his less-than-overwhelming homecoming reception rings true. The book's odd title comes from a discarded American street sign Corbett found while digging his personal foxhole at Khe Sanh.

NONFICTION IN BRIEF

Tad Bartimus. Denby Fawcett. Jurate Kazickas. Edith Lederer. Ann Bryan Mariano. Anne Morrisy Merick. Laura Palmer. Kate Webb. Tracy Wood. Gloria Emerson. Those ten women have one thing in common: they did their time as correspondents in the Vietnam War. These women tell their stories--and they tell them very well--in war torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam (Random House, 291 pp., $24.95). Emerson provides a spectacular introduction, and the others offer evocative and often moving accounts of their wartime experiences.

Freedom: A History of US (Oxford University, 405 pp., $40) is the hardcover companion to the 16-part PBS documentary series of the same name that began airing in January. Author Joy Hakim offers a very readable look at American history. Her coverage of the Vietnam War is concise and accurate. It centers on the Johnson and Nixon administrations and the antiwar movement. The United States, she says, went into Vietnam ``with the best of intentions.'' We ``are involved in Vietnam for thirty years,'' she notes, but ``we can't seem to extricate  ourselves,and we never understand the Vietnamese.''

Leo Daugherty's The Vietnam War Day by Day (Lewis International, 192 pp., $29.95) is a coffee-table sized, chronological, profusely illustrated look at the wars in Indochina from 1954-75. Daugherty, a former editor of The Marine Corps Gazette, also includes political happenings from the home front and sidebars that highlight tactics, strategy, and individuals.

Steven L. Waterman's Just A Sailor: A Navy Diver's Story of Photography, Salvage, and Combat (Ballantine, 284 pp., $6.99, paper) is a cleanly written memoir of the author's naval career, which began in 1964 and included an action-filled Vietnam War tour with the Navy's Underwater Demolition Team 13. Also new in paper: former CBS TV correspondent John Lawrence's sprawling, readable account of his Vietnam War experiences, The Cat From Hue (Public Affairs, 864 pp., $18).

The Columbia Guide to the Vietnam War (Columbia University, 308 pp., $45, edited by David L. Anderson, the University of Indianapolis historian, is a meaty reference book that has four valuable main components: a concise history of the Indochina Wars; an A-Z encyclopedic listing of names, places, dates, and other war-related items; an in-depth chronology; and a well-annotated list of Vietnam War resources and documents.

The newly reissued paperback version of The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes (Oxford University, 513 pp., $16.95), edited by Max Hastings, contains dozens of war-related tales arranged chronologically from biblical times to the Faulklands War. Hastings' Vietnam War essays are excerpts from Bernard Fall's Street Without Joy, Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War, and a magazine article by former war correspondent Nicholas Tomalin.

Michael C.C. Adams's Echoes of War: A Thousand Years of Military History in Popular Culture (University Press of Kentucky, 288 pp., $29) is an examination of the relationship between popular culture and war. In it, the Northern Kentucky University military historian looks briefly at the Vietnam War, focusing mainly on My Lai. His conclusion: ``The atrocities committed by both sides in Vietnam are not aberrations but pieces of a broader pattern in world military history.''

The 1994 edition of The Art of War, recently republished by MetroBooks (375 pp., $7.98), is an excellent translation of the brilliant Sun-tzu's classic work of military strategy by Ralph Sawyer. The book includes a detailed introduction and commentary and examination of the history of Chinese warfare and military thought. Barrett Tillman's Above and Beyond: The Aviation Medals of Honor (Smithsonian Institution, 280 pp., $29.95) contains well-rendered profiles of the more than one hundred American pilots and crewmen who have received the MOH, including 19 men from the Vietnam War.

Jami Janes's Almost Back: The Brenda Cavanaugh Story (New Century, 304 pp., $34, hardcover, $25, paper) is the moving story of a woman whose husband, Dick Genest, survived a year in the Vietnam War, only to be killed on the last day of his tour when the truck he was riding in on Thunder Road ran over a land mine. At the heart of the book are excerpts from letters Dick wrote home from Vietnam.

The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (University of California, 672 pp., $55, hardcover; $19.95, paper), edited by Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik, is a collection of articles and first-person testimonials from former students and professors dealing with the events that roiled the UC Berkeley campus, including anti-Vietnam War protests.

Lucy G. Barber's Marching on Washington: The Forging of an American Political Tradition (University of California, 358 pp., $34.95) closely examines six big D.C. demonstrations, including Vietnam Veterans Against the War's Operation Dewey Canyon II in April 1971.

   

Visit The VVA Veteran archives
to locate back issues.

E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org


     Home | Membership | Publications | Events | Government Relations | Contact Us
Press Releases | Benefits | Meetings & Special Events | Collectibles | Contributions and Sponsorships | Site Index

Vietnam Veterans of America  
8605 Cameron Street, Suite 400
Silver Spring, Maryland  20910-3710
301-585-4000, Fax 301-585-0519, 1-800-VVA-1316  

Copyright 2005 by the Vietnam Veterans of America. All rights reserved.