A SOLDIER'S DUTY
In this brisk and assured fiction debut, set in a near-future Washington, D.C., Washington Post Pentagon correspondent Ricks (author of Making the Corps, an account of boot-camp training) crafts a taut, stimulating tale of contemporary military dilemmas, public and personal. The central issue is the military's role in a democracy: given an unpopular commander-in-chief and an even more unpopular commitment of U.S. troops as peacekeepers in Afghanistan, what is a self-respecting general to do? Ignore his military sense and say yes to a bad political decision, like stolid, hard-drinking army chief-of-staff John Shillingsworth? Or defy orders and attack the position of the civilian government, like flashy, Custeresque B.Z. Ames, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? As the two debate the issues with their romantically involved aides, Majors Cindy Sherman and Buddy Lewis, U.S. troops get bogged down in Afghanistan, lives are lost, officers are court-martialed and a shadowy group of officers called the Sons of Liberty slowly moves from e-mail dissent to outright treason. Ricks uses a crisp, reportorial style to get into the heads of all his characters, and by making them passionate about their positions, he succeeds in creating a genuine debate in which both sides make good sense. Only when the actions of the Ames side become murderous does the book flirt with predictability, but it never goes too far, thanks to Ricks's control of the narrative. This engrossing read will satisfy those who want ideas as well as action—it's an unusually thoughtful military thriller. (May 22)
Forecast:The intrigue here is mostly D.C-based and often intellectual, and may not appeal to readers of mainstream thrillers. But those who appreciate a more challenging perspective will be in their element. A five-city author tour and national advertising are scheduled.