Monday, May 23, 2011

Finished: "The Silent Men" by Richard H. Dickinson

Finished: The Silent Men by Richard H. Dickinson, 2002, 9781590710043.

I found this when looking for a Vietnamese author that I read several years ago. I ran across this in NoveList and placed a reserve. I rarely describe a novel as "gripping" but this one was.

Monroe and Patterson are a sniper team in the Mekong Delta in 1968. Patterson is not smart and knows it. Monroe is distant to everyone and distrusts everyone, white or black. They are teamed together because both are black and the white snipers did not want to work with Monroe. Monroe and Patterson shoot a single, woman soldier on a path and recover the 7.62mm ammo she is carrying. The ammo is judged to be headed to a local Vietnamese sniper who has been killing Americans in the area using a Remington recovered from a dead U.S. sniper.

Divisional intelligence determines where the woman was headed and figure out a general may be there. Monroe and Patterson's next mission is to go over the border into Cambodia and assassinate the general. They do. They also shoot a ARVN general who landed his personal Huey to meet with the NVA. A resulting gunfight finds Patterson rescued and Monroe dropped from a rescue chopper into a canal.

The story splits among several characters. Patterson back at base. Monroe on a slooow escape path. The Division's General Vandermeer and his staff. American reporter Brady. The Vietnamese sniper. Others.

Realpolitik rules the day at Division and MACV, and the political and career maneuverings of the brass control much of the action. The scandal of a ARVN general secretly meeting with the NVA (scheming with the NVA to kill the President of South Vietnam) and then killed by the U.S. in Cambodia would not be good. So when the reporter, Brady, hears about the ARVN general several of the U.S. officers scheme to shut him out or kill him off rather than let the let the story out.

1. Great detail on the patrol tactics and actions of snipers. The slooow movement, absolute silence and covering of their trails. The long hours without sleep while settled it one position.
2. Stephen Hunter has gained fame as a "sniper writer" but he focuses more on the hardware, ballistics and hero building of Swagger. Dickinson focuses more on fieldcraft.
3. Dickinson has a brief bib. in the back for the sources that helped him to build a realistic setting. Racial clashes between black and white soldiers. The cultural disconnect between Viet. and American regarding truthfulness and subterfuge. REMF versus combat troops. Journalistic work that is so cued into reality but occasionally clueless to honor and integrity.
4. Regarding Brady, the reporter. He is a smart reporter but fooled several times. His actions towards the end of the novel are not good.
5. The Vietnamese sniper was a nice touch. A political diehard but a skilled soldier. A look into the other side's life and the schism between the rag tag VC and the professional NVA.
6. I looked up more about Dickinson. He has another novel featuring Monroe in modern day Afghanistan. I am surprised he is not a better known author.
7. Officers out to improve their careers over principle. General Vandermeer comes to some harsh realizations about politics. You can bet the same actions are taken in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hopefully not so blatantly and awfully as in fiction.

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