Wednesday, March 23, 2016

DOUBLE FAULT by Jack M. Bickham

Double Fault is the fifth novel featuring Brad Smith. It was published in 1993 by Tor. It is Brad’s most personal adventure, focusing on his, and America’s, experience with Vietnam. It is less espionage and more suspense than the other titles and it is the best of the Brad Smith novels.

Arnie Tubb is a head case. He has been in and out of military mental hospitals since leaving Vietnam. After his transfer to the cancer ward of Walter Reed hospital, Arnie takes advantage of its lax security and escapes. During the war Arnie was involved in the massacre of a Vietnamese village, very much like My Lai, which the Army wants to keep secret and Arnie wants to avenge. His vengeance is focused on a group of soldiers who refused to participate in the slaughter and his final target is a helicopter pilot named Kevin Green. Kevin was Brad’s mentor on his college tennis team and he is officially listed as missing in action. His name appeared on a manifest of returning prisoners at the conclusion of the war, but he never came home.

Brad unknowingly gets involved when a member of Tubb’s group, disguised as an Army official, contacts him looking for Kevin and his copilot, Dave Wentworth. Brad insists, sincerely, Kevin Green is dead and he is unaware of Wentworth’s location. After the imposter leaves, Brad telephones Wentworth at his Kansas home and gets an odd reaction. Dave is frightened and abruptly ends the call. A few days and several dozen unanswered telephone calls later, Brad travels to Kansas where he finds Dave dead, his throat slashed, in his apartment. Brad, feeling responsible for Dave’s death, decides to start an amateur investigation and finds himself Arnie’s primary target and a useful tool of the U.S. Army.

Double Fault is a nicely developed suspense novel. The pacing creates something of a funnel. The early scenes rolling along the top, progressing deeper and deeper, narrower and faster until its climactic finale. Mr. Bickham expertly stalls the details of the Vietnam massacre, particularly Kevin Green’s role, until the final scenes, which keeps both Brad and the reader off balance. The unknown factors, Arnie’s motive, Kevin Green’s role, generate believable tension and allow Brad to be played by all sides—Tubb’s group and the government (Army, F.B.I. and to a lesser extent C.I.A.) But what separates this novel from the others is its rendering of Vietnam’s long term impact on the soldiers who fought, in a larger than life manner, and the consequence, or responsibility, of friendship. Brad’s friendship with Kevin Green and his C.I.A. pal Collie Davis at its center.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Ben, I have never read the author before though I'd like to read a book or two. The Vietnam angle, both central and peripheral, to the story sounds intriguing. Soldiers returning from a war would make for an interesting case study in a novel.

Ben Boulden said...

Prashant. I'm a Jack Bickham junkie, and I especially like his Brad Smith novels (as you know as a regular reader of the blog). DOUBLE FAULT just works. The Vietnam angle, Brad's experience with the war, and Kevin Green's somewhat fantastical experience, mix with the plot to create something special.