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General David H. Hackworth seems like someone who likes to keep busy. After retiring from the army (a veteran of three wars, he joined the army at 15), Hackworth began covering armed conflicts for Newsweek in 1990. Besides his reporting, he's penned two nonfiction tomes: his autobiography, About Face: The Odyssey of an American Warrior, and Hazardous Duty: One of America's Most Decorated Soldiers Reports from the Front with the Truth about the US Military Today. Most recently, Hackworth turned to fiction: The result is The Price of Honor, a novel that combines vivid, grueling combat action with a quest to uncover secrets that could literally change the course of history.
Hackworth's hero is Army Special Forces Captain Sandy Caine, an eighth-generation warrior. Raised by his grandfather, the imposing General John Pershing Caine, Sandy was steeped in military history, tradition, and the exploits of his progenitors. The Caine history is a proud one, but it is stained: Sandy's father, Alexander Grant Caine, is said to have cracked under pressure during a firefight in Vietnam, costing the lives of the men under his command. The only survivor of that firefight was Alex's friend, Jefferson Taylor, who went on to become a U.S. senator with presidential ambitions.
Although troubled by his father's alleged cowardice, Sandy never thinks to question the army's official version of events until he meets Sgt. Major Dan Perkins in the midst of a pitched battle in Mogadishu, Somalia. Perkins, who served with Alex in Vietnam, paints a completely different portrait of the man Sandy has been taught to think of as a coward, describing him as a soldier's soldier. Perkins is killed before he can tell Sandy anything else, but his comments spur the young captain to investigate. Teaming with his volatile love interest, Washington Chronicle investigative reporter Abigail Mancini, Sandy starts asking questions about his father, questions that threaten to uncover secrets long thought buried. Before the book's end, Sandy and Abby will fight for their lives as well as for the truth.
Although overwritten in places, The Price of Honor still entertains. Hackworth's gritty, utterly realistic battle scenes alone are worth the price of admission; it's here that his firsthand experience shows the most. An instinctive storyteller, Hackworth has created a cast of likable, larger than life characters to carry the action in between the very credible violence, providing a refreshing counterpoint to the bloodshed. His insight into military affairs also provides food for thought -- careful to present varying points of view through a number of characters, Hackworth indirectly raises questions about the state of today's military.
It's been said that old soldiers don't die, they just fade away. Well, I think it would be a shame for a writer who shows as much talent and potential as Hackworth to do that -- the high quality of The Price of Honor argues well for future books from this first-time novelist. Let's all hope the general decides to return to the fray soon.
Hank Wagner is a book reviewer for Cemetery Dance magazine and The Overlook Connection.