Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Take Three Years Off

The US Army is downsizing. "Take Three Years Off" screams the Army Times in front-page headlines. I've read the Army Times religiously every week since the 1970s. Since I got out of the service in 1986, I've kept up with trends and rumor-mills via print media. I write several series of para-military thrillers (Running Out of Time, Impossible, and even the Winds-series  which includes Abandoned and Darkness). I depend on AT and a handful of buddies who are still in the service or recently released from Active Duty to keep me current.
I've been through downsizing before. I was a DA Budget Analyst and Logistics and Personnel Technician during the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations. I got recalled from the standby reserve to help plan for future mobilizations. Every time I took time out from military service to pursue a career as a writer, the Army needed to increase troop strength again to handle a new emergency. Eventually, after more than twenty years of yo-yoing between civilian and military careers, I asked out of that chicken-shit scenario. Now I'm too old to put the uniform on again (even if it fit), but the nightmares still haunt me that I'll wake up in the middle of the night and have to shave and get a haircut, don my ACUs, grab my duffel, and airlift somewhere under live fire. Like CW5 Dave Davis and The Ranger in Abandoned, I just want the killing to stop. Is that only wishful thinking?
Periodic downsizing is necessary, but so is periodic mobilization. America must have a viable deterrence to threat, but we also have realistic limits on men, money, and materiel that require us to withdraw and take stock before responding. We can't keep running without taking a breather. Now is the time to "smoke 'em if you got 'em" and get ready to run again. We've come a long way, but we have farther to go before we can rack our rifles and turn in our unexpended ammunition.
How many boots on the ground will we need for future conflicts? How soon will we need them? I hope planners take a long, hard look at history before culling too many of the herd.
Take three years off? Hell, yeah! It sounds like a great idea for reducing troop strengths while keeping combat-trained men and women available for future conflicts. Whoever thought up that idea deserves a medal.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Signwave by Andrew Vachss

Dell would do anything for Dolly. Dell met Dolly, a nurse serving with Doctors without Borders in war-torn Africa, when Dolly helped save the life of a badly-wounded mercenary soldier who had never before known tenderness or caring. That mercenary, merely one among the many dead and wounded who wound up at the only medical facility in the heart of the jungle, was the man Dolly would eventually marry. Dolly didn’t know that at the time she first saved Dell’s life, but Dell did.

Dell learned about loyalty in the French Foreign Legion. He served five long years in The Legion and was taught many useful things. Like loyalty, weaponry, and ways to kill without being seen and without regret or remorse. Life in the Legion boiled down to kill or be killed. It didn’t matter who you killed. All that mattered was that you killed them first before they killed you.

Now Dell and Dolly have retired from their former lives and live on the Oregon coast where they own some land near the edge of a forest. Dell had wisely invested most of the money he’d earned as a mercenary soldier, so Dolly and Dell can live comfortably without working regular day jobs. If truth be told, Dell is actually quite wealthy. But no one else needs to know that, not even Dolly.

What Dolly does know about Dell and what Dell knows about Dolly is they are both fiercely loyal to each other, to their few human friends, and to the flora and fauna they share their Oregon wilderness home with.

That in a nutshell, is the basic premise behind Andrew Vachss’ enjoyable Aftershock series of laid-back thrillers. Told entirely from Dell’s first-person POV, all three novels (Aftershock, Shockwave, and Signwave) have essentially the same plot: whenever someone or something threatens Dolly or her world, Dell calls on his considerable knowledge, skills, and resources to make the problem simply disappear. But first, Dell must solve the mystery and discover the real source of the problem.

The growing cast of recurring characters—each with his or her own unique abilities and problems—keeps readers reading while Dell investigates and solves the mystery. In Signwave (Pantheon, June 2015, 253 pages, $26.95) Dell calls on MaryLou and Franklin, Johnny and Martin, Mack and Bridgette, and Rascal and Minnie to help Dolly and Dell save their beloved neck of the woods from being exploited by ruthless con men. This time the body count is minimal. Can Dell out-con the con artists? Do bears defecate in the woods?

What Vachss builds in these novels is a growing sense of family that Dell never experienced as a child on the streets of Paris. Luc and Patrice were the closest Dell ever came to family, and they both died. Death was the only constant in Dell’s life until Dell met Dolly. Then everything changed. Now Dell has a real family. And heaven help anyone who tries to mess with any of them because Dell is fiercely loyal to all of them.

I’m now a loyal reader of novels by Andrew Vachss, and I think you will be too once you discover Aftershock, Shockwave, and Signwave.