Monday, December 14, 2009

The Saigon Connection

The Saigon Connection
by Darrel L. Rachel

(CreateSpace / 1-448-69334-9 / 978-1-448-69334-4 / August 2009 / 294 pages / $14.99)

Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

The Saigon Connection is a mystery thriller that starts in Saigon, South Vietnam, in August 1969. The first chapter does not tell us who is risking his life spying on a bunch of criminals. Even by the end of the book, I wasn't sure. The mystery man in the first chapter takes a few pictures, then, discovered, is on the run being chased through the streets of Saigon. At the end of the chapter, he barely escapes in a boat.

Chapter Two introduces a new character, Charlie Manwalker, an FBI agent working in the Oklahoma City area in 1981. At first, I wondered if Charlie was the unnamed character in Chapter One but soon discover that it wasn't him. However, Manwalker was in Vietnam, and may have been in the same military police unit with the mystery man.

Soon, Manwalker is investigating the deaths of other members of that military police unit he was part of twelve years earlier. One after another, members of that military unit are being murdered. There is an envelope full of pictures and copies of a ledger that makes no sense. Charlie is on a short leash since his boss wants him working other cases in a week or so. That's when the clock starts ticking, and Manwalker is off to California, following the evidence trail. It doesn't help that his wife may leave him if he stays away from home for an extended time.

Manwalker also has what appear to be flashbacks. He has trouble sleeping and seems riddled with guilt for something that happened in Vietnam. This plot device didn't work for me. It was more of an irritant. To find out what was behind the nightmares and guilt, I had to read most of the book. This device might have worked better if I had known the reason much earlier. Knowing what happened would have helped develop Manwalker's character.

Even with this flaw and a few others, The Saigon Connection held my interest, but I was often distracted by the poor copy editing like this one on page 282: "Where these warning shots, or was the (I'm leaving this word out so I don't reveal the mastermind behind the bad guys) a poor marksman?" That "Where" should have been "Were". Blemishes like this appear often.

I may be wrong, but The Saigon Connection reads like a rough draft that didn't go through much editing and maybe one or two revisions. With competition like the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke, Darrel Rachel doesn't stand much of a chance to gain a loyal following of readers in this genre. Burke's character, Dave Robicheaux, is a police detective and a Vietnam veteran with a serious case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am a Vietnam veteran with a case of PTSD too, and I've read all of Burke's novels and I identify with Dave. I could not identify with Charley Manwalker. The "head" problems Manwalker brought back from Vietnam did not ring true.

Editor’s Note: Darrel L. Rachel apparently has no web presence at all outside Amazon. He has also released Cherokee Morning (2009) with CS and six earlier books through iUniverse: Letters from Abigail (2000), Nora’s Song (2000), No Man’s Home (2001), The Magnolias Still Bloom (2001), Balinger’s Lake (2002), and The Circling Eagle (2007).

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