I have a confession to make: I know far too little about the Vietnam War. My dad served in the Air Force in Libya in the mid 60s, so I don’t have any firsthand accounts of what life was like during the war, and I’m aware of enough to know that most of the films and TV specials I’ve seen were produced from a certain point of view. So, when I received the opportunity to review the new novel The Forest of Assassins by my PJM colleague David Forsmark and Dr. Timothy Imholt, I jumped at the chance to learn something new while enjoying a different kind of literary experience.
The year is 1964. The war in Vietnam is in its infancy, and the top secret Navy SEAL program is new enough that hardly anyone serving there has heard of it. Lieutenant Hank Dillon commands a unit of the elite SEALs in a dangerous area known as the “Forest of Assassins.” Dillon and his men trust each other with their lives, and Dillon believes he knows who else he can trust. We follow Dillon and his team from mission to mission, each one with increasing complexity and precision and greater danger. Dillon leads his men admirably and heroically, but inwardly he expresses his fear for their safety and his worry about the future of the Vietnamese people for whom they are fighting.
I know it sounds like a cliche, but as I read The Forest of Assassins, I felt like I was right there in the jungles of Southeast Asia with Dillon and his men. The violence and bloodshed are vivid and memorable, yet rarely gruesome. The authors’ attention to detail adds so much to the story, and their depiction of life in country kept the plot from feeling like battle after battle after battle.