Happy birthday, USA. Independence Day had me thinking ‘bout all the great new returning veteran characters who've been popping up in my favorite new books and series like Jad Bell in Greg Rucka’s Alpha or Chon in Don Winslow’s Savages and The Kings of Cool, which, in turn, got me thinking about the tradition of soldiers in crime and mystery fiction which I'm not even going to scratch the surface of in this list of:
A Few American VFWs I Dig (In Chronological Order By War)
WWII - Earl Lee Swagger: featured in Hot Springs by Stephen Hunter. I'm kind of a sucker for Hunter's Sr. Swagger. He's a straight-shooter literally, figuratively and all over the legality line. He's also Bob Lee Swagger's pa, so there's that to thank him for. When he's hired to go be a gunfighter for Uncle Sam on the wild mobbed-up streets of Hot Springs, Arkansas (Las Vegas of the Ozarks before Branson and Shoji) he builds a team of untouchables with wicked ballistic instincts and shoots a lot of shots. Follow his further exploits in Pale Horse Coming and Havana. (When Earl's steadfast righteousness wears you out take the antidote with Scott Phillips' Wayne Ogden in The Adjustment and The Walkaway. A black marketeer and pimp in the European theater and occupied Japan, Ogden is more than a bit bored by civilian life, even as a bag man for a local tycoon, in 1940s Wichita, Kansas. How oh how, will he cure his blues? And if that's up your alley, you'll dig Charles Willeford's memoir of his time serving under Patton Something About a Soldier.)
Korea - Hackberry Holland: featured in Lay Down My Sword and Shield by James Lee Burke. Holland's introduction in this early Burke novel is just one of the great character portraits I've had the good fortune to read. Hack's harrowing experiences as a POW in Korea send him home to Texas with some snarling demons inside that wreck many of his more noble born plans, but they've also left him with precious little capacity to take waste-matter off anybody and blurred the lines more than a bit between his best and worst character traits - was that recklessly brave or just pig-headedly stubborn? Hack's further (much later) tales continue with Rain Gods and Feast Day of Fools. (Between Hack and William Styron's collected marine stories The Suicide Run, I've got an appetite up for more Korean vet experiences. I'm eyeing Martin Limon's George Sueno books including the forthcoming The Joy Brigade - you've read these?)
Vietnam - Hanson: featured in Night Dogs by Kent Anderson. Hanson was introduced in the war novel Sympathy for the Devil, but it's Night Dogs that finds him a police officer in Portland on the front-lines of the war back home. His in-country experience has left him fit for little else, (but at least he's not going toe-to-toe with a small-town sheriff like the haunted hero of David Morrell's classic vet's welcome home First Blood). You read Anderson's Sympathy? Did you get to James Crumley's One to Count Cadence? Do it.
Iraq/Afghanistan - Spero Lucas: featured in The Cut by George Pelecanos. Quinn Colson: featured in The Ranger and The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins. Lucas and Colson make for good point/counterpoint. Upon return, Lucas sets himself up as a private investigator, very at home in the urban jungle (and paradise) of Washington D.C. freelancing for a lawyer and others who sometimes hire him to retrieve missing valuable items (this time he's working for an incarcerated drug dealer who's weed shipments are getting ripped off), and Colson is (by the second title in the series) an elected Sheriff in rural Mississippi facing down criminal horrors old and new to his home. I'll be interested to see how both series progress. Who's still in operation? Thomas Crocker: featured in Hunt the Wolf by Don Mann and Ralph Pezzullo. Plus everybody's favorite sniper from Operation Desert Storm, Anthony Swofford author of Jarhead, has got a new memoir I'm eager to dive into Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails.
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