In these days between the U.S. celebrations of Memorial Day and July 4th, it seemed appropriate to review “Up Country,” a detective/thriller that places war firmly at its center. DeMille considers the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam and the sacrifices made by all concerned. War never seems quite real unless someone close to us is affected, but lest we forget, the body bags are always bringing home someone’s brother or father or sister or mother.
Paul Brenner is close to retiring from military service, but must return to Viet Nam one last time to solve a crime committed during the war almost thirty years before. Was an American soldier killed in Viet Nam back then, actually murdered?
In Brenner’s search for the answers to what seems to be a colossal cover up in “Up Country,” we travel through Viet Nam, feel the anguish of a country still reeling from the destruction of the war, meet descendants of the original soldiers who had nothing to do with the regimes of the time, but are still suffering. And, the very men who lost the war now rule it.
Brennan interacts with ex-pat Susan Weber to supposedly smooth his in-country travel arrangements, and at times (even during their on-the-road affair) we wonder whether she is a friend to Brennan or an agent of the enemy. Corruption and betrayal at every turn, a harrowing unauthorized trip into North Viet Nam, many tense dealings with a suspicious North Vietnamese Colonel, political as well as military agendas, seeing Viet Nam as a country, not as a war – all blends together in a sobering clash of values and hindsight.
DeMille’s ‘Alpha Male’ lead characters are always fully developed, with strong language and active inner dialogue. In “Up Country,” we experience Brennan’s thought process as he assesses his limited options for solving the crime. We are persuaded that he should continue his dangerous mission even as he observes the behavior of the former/present enemy that still lives in the past and can’t let go of the hatred of the U.S.
“Up Country,” published in 2002, was based on DeMille’s own experiences upon his return to Viet Nam in 1997, almost three decades after his own military service. DeMille is a master storyteller, as his legions of fans will agree, but in this book, he brings a great deal of himself to the page and in doing that, creates a completely absorbing, gritty tale. One wonders how much is in reality, fiction. DeMille’s other books are great reads, but “Up Country” just may be his best.
Visit www.nelsondemille.com for more information about the popular John Corey series and the many other bestselling DeMille thrillers.