My first foray into the world of Nelson DeMille was last November with Nightfall, an entertaining thriller that was contrived to be Deus Ex Machina’d by 9/11. Up Country is similarly entertaining, but not similarly contrived and definitely more substantial fare than Nightfall.
Based partly, according to the acknowledgements, on the author’s own recollections of his military service in Vietnam, the novel’s suspenseful and sexy
chase takes us from Saigon (whoops, Ho Chi Minh City) to Hanoi and many points in between. Paul Brenner has been retired/fired from the Army CID, but recalled for a special job, which assignment takes him back to several of his unit’s battlefields. In the hands of most writers, his reminiscences would have seemed annoying interruptions, an excuse for a memoir irrelevant to the story. DeMille, however, integrates them into the action so well that they become at least as interesting and compelling as the rest of the book.
The love interest here, a Ms. Susan Weber, is one of the most interesting characters you’ll run into. The Weber/Brenner relationship is not always believable because of the layers of distrust and untruth that intrude on the romance, but it’s always provocative and fascinating. It ends with a complex, unresolved question of justice, and it gives a perspective on the war I’ve seen nowhere else, even in Tim O’Brien’s much deeper and more incisive works.
Up Country, let’s be honest, is unabashed literary candy, but candy is dandy says Ogden, and so is this absorbing novel.