War never leaves you. Once exposed to it, it lives on in the dark recesses of your memory, surfacing every now and then in the form of nightmares or, sometimes, nostalgia. In Up Country
, author Nelson DeMille brings back Paul Brenner, the smart-mouth Army criminal investigator from his earlier novel, The General’s Daughter
, and together they take the reader on a trek through some of the bloodiest battlefields of the Vietnam War. For both Brenner and DeMille, it is a walk through the memories of their youth.
Brenner, now retired from the Army, is recalled to service by his former Criminal Investigative Division boss and sent on an “unofficial” mission to Vietnam. A letter taken from a dead North Vietnamese soldier 30 years before and only recently translated describes the murder of an American Army lieutenant by his senior officer, a murder the letter writer witnessed while hiding from the Americans during the Tet Offensive. Brenner’s job is to return to Vietnam as a tourist and try to determine if the witness is still alive. It soon becomes apparent to Brenner that if the witness is still alive, someone wants him dead.
DeMille, like his character Brenner, was an infantryman in Vietnam. Like Brenner, DeMille saw heavy combat during the 1968 Tet Offensive. It was, in fact, DeMille’s return to Vietnam with a group of veterans thirty years after the war that inspired Up Country
. As Brenner makes his way from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) up to the north country around Quang Tri and Hue, he visits several battlefields where both men fought—Brenner in fiction, DeMille in real life. The firefights Brenner describes in the book are the actual firefights DeMille took part in.
While Brenner was an Army warrant officer, DeMille was a commissioned officer, a responsibility which, like his hero, he obviously took very seriously. As with its predecessor, one of Up Country’s themes can be summed up in Gen. Douglas MacArthur words: Duty, Honor, Country. Both of DeMille’s Paul Brenner books, I believe, can stand up to classics with similar themes, such as Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle
, and Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny