Facing the Dragon
Jim Peterson is on vacation with his family, heading to Disneyland, when they spot a hitchhiker by the side of the road. Though he never picks up hitchhikers, Jim’s father stops to give this one a lift. Maybe it’s because it’s Christmas Eve and he’s been moved by the spirit of the season, maybe because he and the hitchhiker are both soldiers (Jim’s father is a veteran of World War II, while the hitchhiker is about to head to Vietnam), maybe because he and Jim have had a falling out and this is a small way of making peace. Whatever the reason, Travis Nickels joins their group, and they invite him along to Carlsbad Caverns with him. Most of the family will not leave the caverns, however, and Jim will never find out why his father picked up Travis. Very soon, his life will be torn apart.
For reasons stretching back to World War II and the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau, Jim’s father has an enemy, one who has tracked him to America. Though it has taken years, he intends to have his revenge tonight, whether or not the family gets in the way. Through a small bit of luck (though it hardly feels like that at the time), Jim escapes, though he must watch as the man kills his family and throws their bodies into a pit. After escaping from the caverns, he vows revenge and decides the only course of action left to him is to follow the man to Vietnam. Nickels was killed in the attack, and Jim takes his place, bluffing his way into the army.
What follows is a coming-of-age story set in the jungles of Vietnam. Jim goes from a fifteen-year-old boy who’s greatly out of his depth to a hardened soldier, guided all the while by his thirst for revenge. Some parts of the story did require a little suspension of disbelief, but once I got past those, I was completely immersed in the book. (The afterword helps somewhat with suspending disbelief, as it gives a little precedent for Jim’s actions. Even though the work is fiction, I’m glad it has such a solid grounding in history.)
Facing the Dragon is a powerful novel, rich in historical detail and excellent characterization. I can’t recommend it highly enough to any fan of military history. From its gripping opening to its heart-pounding climax, this was a book I couldn’t put down.
|Page Count||332 pages|
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|Category||Mystery, Crime & Thriller|
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