About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nelson DeMille on War and Returning to Vietnam

The Wall at the Vietnam Memorial
In my last post I put up a review of Up Country by Nelson DeMille. It is an excellent book. It was a book I connected with and which made me reflect on war and its impact.

My connection with Paul Brenner started with his age and background. He was 18 in 1968 when he first went to Vietnam as an infantry soldier. He had grown up in South Boston in a working class family. I am slightly younger and grew up on our family farm.

Opening the book at the Wall of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. to highlight the name of a soldier killed flooded Brenner with remembrances.

During his return to Vietnam Brenner returns to the 1968 battlefields of his youth. Powerful, disturbing, haunting memories are evoked by the A Shau Valley and the Khe Sanh camp.

I can remember as a teenager reading the stories and seeing the pictures of those ferocious brutal battles. DeMille’s recounting had a greater impact than any news story or photo. DeMille brings forth the visceral experience of teenage boys fighting for their lives in a distant land.

In Anthem for a Doomed Youth there are the poems of men who fought in the Great War, World War I, which was the first major conflict of the 20th Century. While I have not read comparable poems for Vietnam the prose of DeMille has the same emotional impact.

For Americans of my generation the Vietnam War was their war. Had my grandfather not left the United States a century ago it could have been my personal war.

I knew a Canadian who served in Vietnam with the American military. A few years later I saw him experience a flashback that was frightening in its intensity.

Brenner encounters Vietnamese veterans, both former allies and enemies. He deeply regrets the continuing cruel treatment of South Vietnamese Army veterans by the Communist victors.

Generally there is mutual respect between Brenner and former adversaries. Yet there remains strong buried animosity. With the right trigger each side is ready to take up the battle again 30 years later.

Colonel Mang is an incorruptible dedicated police officer who fought the Americans. In his persistence and dedication to country he is far more like Brenner than either character would admit to publicly. Neither will settle for easy answers that suit the respective establishments of communist Vietnam and capitalist America.

All reflect on the losses. While America lost over 58,000 the wars from 1954 through 1975 cost 3,000,000 Vietnamese lives.

Returning to Vietnam appears to help Brenner dealing with the memories of his time at war. After reading the book I have some understanding on why going back aids many veterans.

In the post-WW I quartet of mystery series I have read, and about which written a collective post, - the Rennie Airth series with Inspector Madden and the Charles Todd series of Inspector Rutledge and Hamish McLeod and the Charles Todd series with nurse Bess Crawford and the Jacqueline Winspear series with Maisie Dobbs - the impact of the war continued long after they came home. In Up Country DeMille shows how, for a later 20th Century generation, the war equally never ends in the minds of its veterans.


  1. Bill - You make a very well-taken point. One of the terrible prices that war exacts is people's mental health. There really are hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans on both sides who still have to deal with that reality every day. And we are seeing that with soldiers who've returned from more recent conflicts too. Arms, legs, etc.., those things can sometimes be saved. Mental trauma? That's much harder...

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Hopefully present and future soldiers get the treatments for mental trauma not available for soldiers of the past.