Nelson DeMille has become one of my favorite authors. I only discovered his work a year or so ago, but he has never disappointed. In Up Country DeMille pulls from his experience fighting in Vietnam and I have to wonder how much detail revealed by character Paul Brenner was actually DeMille’s.
In the novel Brenner is a retired Army investigator from the Criminal Investigation Division. He is asked by a former superior to investigate a crime. The only problem is that the crime was perpetrated in Vietnam…thirty years ago. So Mr. Brenner begins his journey back to his past on what seems to be a secret mission though he is suspicious that there is more to the investigation that he has been told.
Up Country combines the adventure of a “spy” novel told from the perspective of a returning veteran; a veteran returning to the battlefields that he somehow survived; a battlefield where returning veterans were not given a parade when they got home. I think, for me, that the “main” story is dwarfed by the returning Vietnam veteran story. As someone too young to have had to worry about getting drafted, I was old enough to have friends who had brothers sent over and I now have some friends who served. They, like Mr. Brenner, never talk about their experiences.
There are two quotes that struck home for me. The first shared a sentiment that I have read in other accounts of wars;
“It was sort of a waste of time to make friends with the new guys. They had a bad survival rate, and they got too many people around them killed. If they were still alive after thirty days, then you’d shake their hand or something.”
The second dealt with common images we are presented about soldiers in this war;
“Most guys arrived here normal, and they were shocked and sickened by the behavior of the guys who’d been here a while. Then within a few weeks, they’d stop being shocked, and within a few months, a lot of them joined the club of crazies…I mean, they weren’t evil or psychotic, we were normal, which is what really scared the hell out of me.”