Echo Five by David Chacko
(Foremost Press / 0-978-97047-0 / 978-0-978-97047-5 / January 2008 / 280 pages / $14.97)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM
When it comes to a book I'm going to review, I generally avoid reading other reviews and promotional material. I would rather approach the book fresh, and let it make its own impressions. Thus it was that some number of pages into Echo Five I was surprised to find I was reading a different type of book than I had expected from the early signs. What I had thought would be a contemporary war-against-terrorists military thriller turned out instead to be a murder mystery, and a rather good one at that.
Jason Ender, a senior-level interrogator of prisoners of the Guantanamo type, is sent to a godforsaken base in the horn of Africa to help determine which, if any, of several prisoners might be a key enemy leader. When he arrives he finds that the main interrogator he was to work with, an attractive lieutenant, has committed suicide only hours earlier, and for no obvious reason. Suspicions aroused, he finds loads of suspects, leads, and possible evidence indicating her death might not have been an accident. The story becomes Ender's efforts to find the cause of the lieutenant's death and those responsible (and why). There is no need to provide details here and plenty reason not to: the story is a murder mystery and generally observes the expected form, including a twist or two at the end.
At the same time, the mystery is indeed set within the exquisitely named GWOT (the global war on terror), complete with multiple levels of bureaucracy, military personnel and civilians with different agendas, and endlessly complex and perplexing tactical and strategic milieus. For fans of such stuff the book would be satisfying for these reasons alone. To this lay reader, the author convincingly depicts all these variables, down to the mind-set and speech characteristics of the people involved.
The text is cleanly written with almost no typos or grammar glitches, but I must insert a personal gripe about the style. The characters' motivations, actions, and words are well thought out, but in fact they all speak in pretty much the same overwrought manner. Even the uneducated lowlifes make statements that they then glibly elaborate in the manner of Oscar Wilde, had he only been in the U.S. military. Furthermore, these quips are all too often completely opaque, requiring me, for one, to have to go back and read them again, sometimes more than once. Some may call this high style; I call it poor editing.
Take, for example, the blurb on the back of the book:
Ender had seen their influence in operation. Control behind the wire ran to civilians, but Intelligence in Kuwait or Headquarters NIC could look over an interrogator’s shoulder as he questioned a detainee and do everything but bring him down with a hard right. They usually did not intervene unless it was an urgent matter and their input could make a difference. But they were there for that and other intervention, too.
Ender had become aware of a third level – a parallel level – that should not have functioned. It was occupied by Shrubsole, and overhead like Nan. He had been to this camp twice when zero would have been the understandable number. Although answering to the government, the Donner Party – and other companies that supplied expertise – could paper any position while they worked the angles with soft words and handshakes. Usually benign, the process could turn rogue. It had.
Blurbs are hard to write, but this one, which was mostly lifted verbatim from passages in the book, makes almost no sense at all. There was too much of this throughout the book for my taste. Those who find the blurb no problem should enjoy Echo Five with no qualification.