James Carter shows his versatility with Ghosts in Vietnam. This thought-provoking tale focused on the stream-of-consciousness personal hell that people caught in wartime conditions endure. Add to this the merciless verdure and humidity of the Vietnamese climate, and the darker shades of human nature are packaged in a brief encounter between a group of VietCong 'fighters' and the rag-tag group of American soldiers.
A squad of nine American soldiers from Sierra Company were assigned to a mission somewhere in Vietnam, and no one knew what the mission was except their lieutenant Paul Sitrick, whose own ethical baggage made this dubious mission even harder for him to accomplish. The men don't know each other well and trust each other even less. Lieutenant Sitrick was seconded by Sergeant Tom McCain, a grizzled veteran of several missions who had seen it all and did not like what he saw. Distrustful of his superior officers and jaded, he grasped quickly that their mission was utterly pointless, and hated the Ivy League-, fashion model-looking lieutenant he had to back up. Add Wilbur Gosset, a black man who was skilled enough to attain the position of Corporal and endured all the prejudice such an accomplishment elicited, and the six men already deemed losers by Sierra Company who were already in over their heads had nothing but a shaky command team to lead them. Meanwhile, somewhere deep in the squad's drop site, an isolated group of VietCong were trying to survive the punishing conditions of living underground as well as dodging the wrath of their cruel commander Quan. The Amercans' mission was supposed to be only two days long, and the encounter between the groups were messy and short - no man in either faction would ever be the same, and most wouldn't even be alive by the time the chopper came back for the squad's extraction.
After finishing Ghosts in Vietnam, I discovered James Carter to be a brave writer who practiced versatility with so varied a range of writing styles. I encourage readers to take a peek at humanity's ugly underbelly - and I hope readers find themselves pensive and a little humbled after the experience like I was. Recommended.
Posted on behalf of BookIdeas.com, where the original review is available to read.
"The Silver Flame" by James Carter is a story of thievery and murder and vengeance. It opens with this sentence: "The Silver Flame sliced through the droplet of emerald green water, splitting it in two." One could say of Carter that he writes with an elegant precision equal to that of the great sword, but the world he gives us -- in which pure beauty and squalid evil reside side by side -- is not so easily divided.
Carter is not given to exposition. He supplies the year (1871) and the place (Japan) and just enough of a hint about the characters' backgrounds to intrigue the reader and provide plausibility to the plot. Our hero is an American who is trying to escape his horrifying memories of the Civil War by embracing the all-encompassing code of the samurai and its engagement with death. When we first meet him he is running across algae coated planking on a lake, trying to escape the flashing sword held by his mentor: "Gravity grabbed Phoenix and threw him into a world of sparkling green water. A shocking cold pressed against the warrior's body and stole the heat from his imagined wound. There! He saw it in the corner of his right eye… his sword had been sliced in half. The lake surface slowly fell down and parted around (his) lips. Instinctively he took in a gulp of pure air and savored its remarkable taste…He was back from the dead."
Our heroine, too, is trying to escape. In her case it is from the life of bonded apprenticeship as a geisha that has kept her in thrall to a vile old woman who bought her as a child Carter writes: "Those who were plain and ordinary called her Mai, and they saw in her a beauty tinged with rage." But for those with an eye to rarity, she was an exotic red flower who "danced on water, this marvel of the geisha universe, and she moved in time with the shamisen breeze, suspended in flight and completely intimate with the air around her -- one moment a butterfly, the next a bird."
There is nothing plain and ordinary about this novel, but "beauty tinged with rage" might be a fitting
description for "The Silver Flame." Bookreview.com recommends it as excellent.