"My mind drifted back to May 1968, when I was here in Nha Trang, with only one worry in the world --- staying alive." --- Chief Warrant Officer Paul Brenner, on civilian assignment in Vietnam, 1999.
Thirty years later, staying alive is once again the biggest hurdle Paul Brenner faces, while trying to solve an ancient murder and figure out his current love life. It would probably be easier if he were in possession of all the facts, but his mission and the means by which to accomplish it are maddeningly vague. His ex-boss in the army Criminal Investigation Division, Colonel Karl Hellmann, asks a favor of his ex-best agent: Find the eyewitness to the decades-old crime, back in Vietnam, with no official standing. While trying to sort out his stalled relationship with Cynthia Sunhill, an agent whom he met during the investigation chronicled in THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER, and against his better judgment, Paul accepts the case.
With instructions to establish himself as an ordinary tourist, a simple ex-GI returning to lay his ghosts to rest, Brenner revisits old battlefields, reliving the grueling, near-impossible conditions under which they waged a war. He reminisces to his new travel companion, Susan Weber, a stunning woman sporting an acid wit that rivals his own, and dredges up memories best left buried. In the course of pretending to be on vacation, the pair runs afoul of the local police and becomes embroiled in a countrywide chase, barreling through treacherous mountain passes, speeding over fog shrouded roads and careening down heavily populated highways. When they stop long enough to catch their breath, Paul recalls another bloody battle scene, overflowing with casualties, inhumanities, and raw emotions. Despite his macho cover-up attempts with his razor-sharp humor, the scars those years left on Paul show through.
Part contemporary travelogue, part military history, all taut thriller, UP COUNTRY is another tour de force from this best-selling author. From Saigon to Hanoi, Nelson DeMille takes us on a journey through modern-day Vietnam as seen through the eyes of a cynical veteran of the war.
I wasn't anywhere near the war, but UP COUNTRY gave me a disturbing insight into what our American troops went through. Under DeMille's skillful guidance, the rugged, forbidding terrain takes shape in its awful beauty. Ponds, which are in reality water-filled bomb craters, pockmark the countryside. The results of defoliation efforts still scar the land. Paths marked out to define known minefields remain a sobering reminder of what happened there. I learned much about Vietnam, then and now.
For anyone who survived the horror of combat, UP COUNTRY will elicit a feeling of, "Yes! That's the way it was!" From the rest of us, we're likely to hear, "Wow, I didn't realize…" Whichever group you're in, a look into that troubled time by as powerful yet entertaining a writer as Nelson DeMille cannot fail to bring us all a little closer. If that doesn't set you on a quest to buy this book, maybe you should know it's a highly engrossing read and, yes, even a bit fun!
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 24, 2011