Review: Red Flags

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Red FlagsRed Flags by Juris Jurjevics
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on September 20, 2011
Genres: Adventure, Historical, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 308
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Army cop Erik Rider prefers to fight his war in the saloons and streets of Saigon, so he is less than thrilled at being sent to a tiny American outpost in the remote wilderness of the Central Highlands to take down a Viet Cong opium operation hidden in the jungle. When Rider lands in Cheo Reo, things get complicated. Viet Cong battalions are gathering in the surrounding hills like storm clouds, while the corrupt South Vietnamese commander and his troops sit idle. And sixty thousand Montagnard tribespeople want their mountain homeland back.

Soon Rider is entangled with the local CIA man and an alluring doctor serving the indigenous tribes. As he closes in on the opium fields, he learns the hard way that that not all enemies are beyond the perimeter; someone in Cheo Reo wants him dead. Easy enough in a combat zone where killing is common and loyalties are for sale.

Red Flags is a masterly novel of soldiers and spies grappling with forces beyond their control and striving for the most basic goal in war—survival.

Red Flags hooked me in the opening and then quickly lost me again for quite a while. The premise of the girl wanting to learn about the father she never knew was compelling, particularly given Rider’s hesitancy to speak. Knowing all the awful things that occur in any war, and the especially unique and terrible things that transpired in the Vietnam conflict, it set my mind spinning and prepared me for serious drama.

Instead, the novel is not propelled forward by any real plot or constant action. There is some action, of course, but there’s also a lot of boredom. Soldiers spend a lot of time standing around or watching for attackers only to have none come. There were also some places where the story seemed to jump awkwardly, which could be due to Rider’s own memory of the events. All of this combines to make Red Flags a better novel, I expect, but did not always make it incredibly readable.

What I really liked about Red Flags was that it focused on some elements of the war that I never previously learned much about. For one thing, I never knew about the Montagnards, the tribes in the highlands of Vietnam, and the way they were used by every side. Additionally, I knew quite a bit about the corruption of the South Vietnamese government, but the corruption within the ARVN was completely eye-opening. Some of the stuff they were doing was just…well, awful and dumb. Why would you help the enemy kill your side?

Red Flags is a slow burner, but really makes you think. While not my favorite Vietnam War book, this is a solid read with an interesting focus.

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