Wednesday, August 26, 2009

War Stories . . . recommended by Suzanne

Wrongful Death by Robert Dugoni
Although Dugoni writes legal thrillers, this is more of an action thriller than a courtroom drama. Attorney David Sloan is hired by the widow of a National Guard soldier killed in Iraq. She wants to sue the military for his death, but the law doesn't allow suits if a soldier died in the line of duty. When the surviving members of the guardsman's unit start to die, Sloan suspects his death was not a straightforward combat death. I don't think I'm giving too much away, because Dugoni introduces this possibility early on. Although Iraqi insurgents were the soldiers' enemy, the villains in this book are evil American corporations. The book could have been more tightly plotted. There's a backstory about Sloan's childhood that was totally irrelevant. The theme of parent-child relationships (Sloan was abandoned as a child and grew up in foster homes) is rather ham-handed - some of the "tug-at-your-heartstrings" scenes (for instance the dead soldier saying goodbye to his daughter before he leaves for Iraq) made the story sag. (Robert Dugoni's website.)
Verdict: This is an intelligent and suspenseful conspiracy thriller.

The Increment by David Ignatius
Harry Pappas, working in the Iranian division of the CIA, is in charge of communicating with an Iranian scientist who contacts the agency with a cryptic message about his country's nuclear weapons program. Harry's director and the U.S. president are pig-headedly insistent that "action must be taken" immediately. In other words, they want to go to war with Iran. Charlie knows they don't have enough evidence - is the scientist trying to tell them the program is making progress, or that it is a failure? Charlie, tormented by his Marine son's (needless, as he sees it) death in Iraq, doesn't want his country to start another war in the Middle East. When his advice is ignored, Charlie feels he must look for help outside the agency. Things get very complicated when he contacts his friend in the British spy service. The book takes its title from a shadowy team of British Special Forces agents who do black ops. I'm not sure why Ignatius titled the book after them. The book is really Harry's story.
Verdict: This is a terrific spy thriller. Harry is a memorable character.

Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 by Max Hastings
The last year of the WWII in Asia is vividly told in this long but never tedious account. Hastings keeps the story personal by alternating accounts of battles, strategy and statistics with first-hand accounts by leaders, soldiers and civilians. This is not an overview - the accounts of the horrors of Okinawa, Burma, Iwo Jima, the Japanese occupation of China are extensively and graphically described. Hastings is opinionated - he begins the book by saying that although the war in Europe has gotten more attention, the war in the Far East caused at least as much if not more suffering among combatants and civilians. American losses were 31/2 times what they were in the European theater. He writes about the mistrust between the British and the American commanders. Few of the generals and politicians, Allied or Japanese, gets a high score from Hastings. His judgments are balanced, however. While he gives MacArthur a scathing review as a military leader, he says he was an intelligent administrator of postwar occupied Japan. He disagrees with historians who conclude that the Japanese were on the verge of surrendering before the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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