Apologies for not replying to or checking out your blogs of late, I shall be catching up with you all in the next day or two so keep your welcome mats out. Whilst I’m at it, a big thank you to Mr Lofthouse for his patience whilst I battled (see that, a pun this early on) through various backlogs of various things.
Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. In “Running with the Enemy”, Ethan Card is a loyal US Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again. And the women he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.
In the claustrophobic theatre of war, there is always a feeling of hidden yet blatant peril which could be lurking anywhere and in this cat and mouse game that takes place in various countries there really is a sense of oppressive drama and isolation.
As this is a book set in the Vietnam War, then you will probably appreciate there is a fair amount of brutality involved including one particularly grim torture scene. This is over quickly though as the book rattles along at a cracking pace, with action aplenty but also a fair amount of army politics and a forbidden love thrown in as well.
In keeping with the real thing, a bit of technical jargon is used, some of which I wasn’t familiar with and I did have to search out some words but overall I was able to understand what was meant through context and even if you need to learn the meaning of all words like myself that you don’t know, it doesn’t detract from the flow of the book at all.
As Card and the truly sinister antagonist Ortega – an intelligent psychopath with influence who will stop at nothing for power and revenge – play out their deadly game of hide and seek to the backdrop of the grim insanity of war, we see it’s madness and lies corrupting everybody down to their deepest morals. Ortega is representative of some of the more unpalatable displays of what go on in armies – which one would be naive to think doesn’t go on – which makes him a really good hate figure. In fact this guy has no redeeming qualities apart from the fact that he makes a character that the reader loves to loathe.
On reflection, the characters line up as either good or bad, the pace of the book probably negates the type of role that would demand a complex back story which would ensure inner struggle and unpredictability. This is not so much a criticism as a fact of the single-mindedness of the situations they are placed in. Each must do what they can to survive. Tuyen has the most complex issues in the book with her position in life, being in ‘a mans world of war’ and her loyalties and teaching being utterly confounded and brought into conflict with the position she finds herself in. Although there are not an abundance of female characters in the book, they all seem to hold a sense of power be it sexual power play or political. There is of course always going to be one character who you are waiting for to do something absolutely unhinged and unsavoury, there is a good example of that with one of the soldiers whose mind has snapped and he has some good internal monologue throughout.
As with any war book there are elements of unnecessary cruelty, it doesn’t hold back in its depiction of war and the actions both heroic and cowardly as it shouldn’t but if you go into this one be prepared for an uncomfortable read of torture and violence as well as love and loyalty. Isolation from the world in these jungles is indeed a terrible thing and the various mindsets of people are always going to be a challenge to capture, the author manages to give us an insight whilst keeping the action flowing.
The supposed overarching aim of war for the common soldier is to survive and protect loved ones, the truth is usually nothing as noble as that when it comes down to the reality of war, perspectives can be skewed, army politics can be wildly at odds with reality so it is refreshing to find a book that has little of the jingoism that can be used as some sort of accepted form of patriotism.
I found the character of Kit somewhat jarring comic relief, his late arrival in the story and the slight change of tone didn’t work for me, he felt a little too like a slapstick sidekick, like that annoying kid from Die Hard 4.0. Similarly Ortega’s overuse of word ‘man’ almost started to annoy me. Having said that both things (but mainly the former) do not sufficiently bring the reader out of the book to spoil it…in fact if you don’t mind a bit of bloody with your words then this is a fast paced visceral read that captures some of the hell ordinary people go through in armed conflicts.