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For this mordant dispatch from one of the Iraq War's seamiest sides, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post correspondent Fainaru embedded with some of the thousands of "private security contractors" who chauffeur officials, escort convoys and add their own touch of mayhem to the conflict. Exempt from Iraqi law and oversight by the U.S. government, which doesn't even record their casualties, the mercenaries, Fainaru writes, play by "Big Boy Rules"-which often means no rules at all as they barrel down highways in the wrong direction, firing on any vehicle in their path. (His report on the Blackwater company, infamous for killing Iraqi civilians and getting away with it, is meticulous and chilling.) Fainaru's depiction of the mercenaries' crassness and callousness is unsparing, but he sympathizes with these often inexperienced, badly equipped hired guns struggling to cope with a dirty war. Nor is he immune to the romance of the soldier of fortune, especially in his somewhat bathetic portrait of Jon Coté, Iraq War veteran and lost soul who joined the fly-by-night Crescent Security Group and was kidnapped by insurgents. Fainaru's vivid reportage makes the mercenary's dubious motives and chaotic methods a microcosm of a misbegotten war. (Nov. 17)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.