Up Country (Paul Brenner Series #2)

Up Country (Paul Brenner Series #2)

4.3 190
by Nelson DeMille

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The last thing Paul Brenner wanted to do was return to work for the Army's Criminal Investigative Division, an organization that thanked him for his many years of dedicated service by forcing him into early retirement. But when his former boss calls in a career's worth of favors, Paul finds himself investigating a murder that took place back in Vietnam thirty years

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The last thing Paul Brenner wanted to do was return to work for the Army's Criminal Investigative Division, an organization that thanked him for his many years of dedicated service by forcing him into early retirement. But when his former boss calls in a career's worth of favors, Paul finds himself investigating a murder that took place back in Vietnam thirty years before. Now, returning to a time and place that still haunts him, Paul is swept up in the battle of his life as he struggles to find justice.

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Nelson DeMille is a consummate storyteller whose wit, unstoppable narrative momentum, and edgy, sardonic authorial voice have won him legions of fans over his extensive career.

One of DeMille's most popular characters -- Paul Brenner, the brilliant, abrasive Army investigator first seen in The General's Daughter -- makes a welcome and long overdue second appearance in Up Country, an ambitious, enormously compelling novel of love, war, murder, and memory.

The story begins, appropriately, at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, where Brenner -- newly retired and desperately bored -- holds a clandestine meeting with his former commanding officer, Colonel Karl Hellman. Hellman has a mission for Brenner: He wants him to travel, disguised as a tourist, to Vietnam, where Brenner served as an infantryman nearly 30 years before. The mission, which Brenner reluctantly accepts, involves tracking down a former North Vietnamese soldier named Tran Van Vinh. According to a recently discovered letter, Vinh may have witnessed the murder of an American officer during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Aware that there is more to the story than Hellman is telling him, Brenner sets out for his third and final tour of duty in Vietnam. Once there, Brenner -- accompanied by Susan Weber, a guide and translator with more than her share of secrets and surprises -- begins a harrowing two-week journey from Saigon to Hanoi, making numerous stops -- some idyllic, some dangerous, all of them emotionally charged -- along the way. In the end, Brenner locates his witness and learns more than he wants to know about the undisclosed purpose of his mission. But dramatic as they are, the answers he finds are ultimately less important than the scenes he revisits -- and the nightmares he confronts -- during the course of his journey.

Up Country uses the conventions of the thriller as a forum for a beautifully detailed, powerfully reconstructed act of remembrance. As Brenner moves by a circuitous route to the former enemy stronghold of Hanoi, he comes face-to-face with the most violent, surreal moments of his own past. In places like Hue, Quang Tri City, and the A Shau Valley -- scene of a primal, life-or-death encounter he has never revealed to anyone -- Brenner faces and absorbs some traumatic personal memories and achieves a gradual catharsis that is moving, unsentimental, and entirely credible.

In Up Country, DeMille's considerable talents are on full display once again. But this time out, he has raised the stakes considerably, giving us something darker, richer, and more emotionally complex than anything he has written before. Up Country is at once a novel of character, a superb evocation of an exotic, haunted place, and a first-rate story of mystery and suspense. It is also an evenhanded meditation on the cost of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and on the lingering aftereffects of that protracted, deeply divisive war. (Bill Sheehan)

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, won the International Horror Guild's award for best nonfiction book of 2000.

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Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Paul Brenner Series, #2
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.66(w) x 10.96(h) x 1.31(d)

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Washington, D.C


Bad things come in threes. The first bad thing was a voice mail from Cynthia Sunhill, my former partner in the army's Criminal Investigation Division. Cynthia is still with the CID, and she is also my significant other, though we were having some difficulties with that job description.

The message said, "Paul, I need to talk to you. Call me tonight, no matter how late. I just got called on a case, and I have to leave tomorrow morning. We need to talk."

"Okay." I looked at the mantel clock in my small den. It was just 10 P.M., or twenty-two hundred hours, as I used to say when I was in the army not so long ago.

I live in a stone farmhouse outside Falls Church, Virginia, less than a half-hour drive to CID Headquarters. The commute time is actually irrelevant because I don't work for the CID any longer. In fact, I don't work for anyone. I'm retired, or maybe fired.

In any case, it had been about six months since my separation from the army, and I was getting bored, and I had twenty or thirty years to go.

As for Ms. Sunhill, she was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, about a fourteen-hour drive from Falls Church, or twelve if I'm very excited. Her caseload is heavy, and weekends in the army are often normal duty days.

The last six months had not been easy on our relatively new relationship, and with her interesting career and my growing addiction to afternoon talk shows, we don't have a lot to talk about.

Anyway, bad thing number two. I checked my e-mail, and there was a message that said simply, 1600 hrs, tomorrow, the Wall. It was signed, K.

K is Colonel Karl Hellmann, my former boss at Headquarters, and Cynthia's present commanding officer. That much was clear. What wasn't clear was why Hellmann wanted to meet me at the Vietnam War Memorial. But instinctively, I put this under the category of "bad things."

I considered several equally terse replies, none of them very positive. Of course, I didn't have to respond at all; I was retired. But, in contrast to civilian careers, a military career does not completely end. The expression is, "Once an officer, always an officer." And I had been a warrant officer by rank, and a criminal investigator by occupation.

Fact is, they still have some kind of legal hold on you, though I'm not really sure what it is. If nothing else, they can screw up your PX privileges for a year.

I stared at Karl's message again and noticed it was addressed to Mr. Brenner. Warrant officers are addressed as Mister, so this salutation was a reminder of my past-or perhaps present-army rank, not a celebration of my civilian status. Karl is not subtle. I held off on my reply.

And, last but not least, the third bad thing. I'd apparently forgotten to send in my response to my book club, and in my mail was a Danielle Steel novel. Should I return it? Or give it to my mother next Christmas? Maybe she had a birthday coming up.

Okay, I couldn't postpone the Cynthia call any longer, so I sat at my desk and dialed. I looked out the window as the phone rang at the other end. It was a cold January night in northern Virginia, and a light snow was falling.

Cynthia answered, "Hello." "Hi," I said.

A half-second of silence, then, "Hi, Paul. How are you?" We were off on the wrong foot already, so I said, "Let's cut to the chase, Cynthia."

She hesitated, then said, "Well... Can I first ask you how your day was?"

"I had a great day. An old mess sergeant gave me his recipe for chili-I didn't realize it fed two hundred, and I made it all. I froze it in Ziploc bags. I'll send you some. Then I went to the gym, played a basketball game against a wheelchair team-beat them big time-then off to the local tavern for beer and hamburgers with the boys. How about your day?"

"Well... I just wrapped up the rape case I told you about. But instead of time off, I have to go to Fort Rucker for a sexual harassment investigation, which looks tricky. I'll be there until it's concluded. Maybe a few weeks. I'll be in Bachelor Officers Quarters if you want to call me." I didn't reply.

She said, "Hey, I still think about Christmas." "Me, too." That was a month ago, and I hadn't seen her since. "How's Easter look?"

"You know, Paul... you could move here." "But you could be reassigned anytime. Then I'd wind up following your career moves. Didn't we discuss this?"

"Yes, but..."

"I like it here. You could get stationed here." "Is that an offer?"

Whoops. I replied, "It would be good for your career. Headquarters."

"Let me worry about my career. And I really don't want a staff job. I'm an investigator. Just like you were. I want to go where I can be useful." I said, "Well, I can't be following you around like a puppy dog, or hanging around your apartment when you're away on assignment. It's not good for my ego."

"You could get a job here in law enforcement." "I'm working on that. Here in Virginia."

And so on. It's tough when the guy's not working and the woman has a traveling career. To make matters worse, the army likes to change your permanent duty station as soon as you're comfortable, which calls into question the army's definition of permanent. On top of that, there are a lot of temporary duty assignments these days-places like Bosnia, Somalia, South America-where you could be gone for up to a year, which pushes the definition of temporary. Bottom line, Cynthia and I were what's called these days GU-geographically unsuitable.

The military, as I've always said, is tough on relationships; it's not a job, it's a calling, a commitment that makes other commitments really difficult.

Sometimes impossible.

"Are you there?" she asked. "I'm here." "We can't go on like this, Paul. It hurts." "I know." "What should we do?"

I think she was willing to resign and forfeit a lot of her pension, in exchange for the M word. Then we'd decide where to live, find jobs, and live happily ever after. And why not? We were in love.

"Paul?" "Yeah... I'm thinking." "You should have already thought about all of this." "Right. Look, I think we should talk about this in person. Face-to-face." "The only thing we do face-to-face is fuck." "That's not... well, we'll talk over dinner. In a restaurant." "Okay. I'll call you when I get back from Rucker. I'll come there, or you come here."

"Okay. Hey, how's your divorce coming?" "It's almost final." "Good." Regarding her loving husband, I asked, "Do you see much of Major Nut Case?" "Not much. At the O Club once in a while. Can't avoid those situations." "Does he still want you back?" "Don't try to complicate a simple situation." "I'm not. I'm just concerned that he might try to kill me again." "He never tried to kill you, Paul." "I must have misinterpreted his reason for pointing a loaded pistol at me."

"Can we change the subject?" "Sure. Hey, do you read Danielle Steel?" "No, why?" "I bought her latest book. I'll send it to you." "Maybe your mother would like it. It's her birthday, February 10. Don't forget." "I have it memorized. By the way, I got an e-mail from Karl. He wants to meet me tomorrow." "Why?" "I thought maybe you knew." "No, I don't," she said. "Maybe he just wants to have a drink, talk about old times." "He wants me to meet him at the Vietnam Memorial." "Really? That's odd."

"Yeah. And he never mentioned anything to you?" "No," she replied. "Why should he?" "I don't know. I can't figure out what he's up to." "Why do you think he's up to anything? You two worked together for years. He likes you." "No, he doesn't," I said. "He hates me." "He does not hate you. But you're a difficult man to work with. Actually, you're difficult to love." "My mother loves me."

"You should re-check that. Regarding Karl, he respects you, and he knows just how brilliant you are. He either needs some advice, or he needs some information about an old case."

"Why the Wall?" "Well... I don't know. You'll find out when you meet him." "It's cold here. How's it there?" "Sixties." "It's snowing here." "Be careful driving."

"Yeah." We both stayed silent for a while, during which time I thought of our history. We'd met at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. She was engaged to Major What's-His-Name, a Special Forces guy, we got involved, he got pissed, pulled the aforementioned gun on me, I backed off, they got married, and a year later Cynthia and I bumped into each other again.

It was in the Officers Club at Fort Hadley, Georgia, and we were both on assignment. I was undercover, investigating the theft and sale of army weapons, she was wrapping up a rape case. That's her specialty. Sexual crimes. I'd rather be in combat again than have that job. But someone's got to do it, and she's good at it. More important, she can compartmentalize, and she seems to be unaffected by her work, though sometimes I wonder.

But back to Fort Hadley, last summer. While we were both there, the post commander's daughter, Captain Ann Campbell, was found on a rifle range, staked out, naked, strangled, and apparently raped. So, I'm asked to drop my little arms deal case, and Cynthia is asked to assist me. We solved the murder case, then tried to solve our own case, which is proving more difficult. At least she got rid of Major Nut Job.

"Paul, why don't we put this on hold until we can meet? Is that okay?" "Sounds okay." In fact, it was my suggestion. But why point that out? "Good idea."

"We both need to think about how much we have to give up and how much we stand to gain." "Did you rehearse that line?" "Yes. But it's true. Look, I love you-" "And I love you."

"I know. That's why this is difficult." Neither of us spoke for a while, then she said, "I'm younger than you--"

"But I'm more immature." "Please shut up. And I like what I do, I like my life, my career, my independence.

But... I'd give it up if I thought..." "I hear you. That's a big responsibility for me." "I'm not pressuring you, Paul. I'm not even sure I want what I think I want."

I'm a bright guy, but I get confused when I talk to women. Rather than ask for a clarification, I said, "I understand." "Do you?"

"Absolutely." "Totally clueless." "Do you miss me?" "Every day," I said.

"I miss you. I really do. I'm looking forward to seeing you again. I'll take some leave time. I promise." "I'll take some leave time, too." "You're not working." "Right. But if I was, I'd take a leave to be with you. I'll come to you this time. It's warmer there." "Okay. That would be nice." "You like chili?" "No."

"I thought you liked chili. Okay, good luck with the case. Give me a day's notice, and I'll be there."

"It'll be about two weeks. Maybe three. I'll let you know when I get into the case."

"Okay." "Say hello to Karl for me. Let me know what he wanted." "Maybe he wants to tell me about his alien abduction." She laughed.

So, just as we were about to end on a happy note, she said, "You know, Paul, you didn't have to resign."

"Is that a fact?" The case of the general's daughter had been trouble from minute one, a political, emotional, and professional minefield, and I stepped right into it. I would have been better off not solving the case because the solution turned out to be about things no one wanted to know. I said to Cynthia, "A letter of reprimand in my file is the army's way of saying, 'Call your pension officer.' A little subtle, perhaps, but-" "I think you misinterpreted what was happening. You were scolded, you got all huffy, and you acted impulsively because your ego was bruised."

"Is that so? Well, thank you for informing me that I threw away a thirty-year career because I had a temper tantrum." "You should come to terms with that. I'll tell you something else-unless you find something equally important and challenging to do, you're going to get depressed--" "I'm depressed now. You just made me depressed. Thanks."

"Sorry, but I know you. You were not as burned out as you thought you were. The Campbell case just got to you. That's okay. It got to everyone. Even me. It was the saddest, most depressing case--" "I don't want to talk about that."

"Okay. But what you needed was a thirty-day leave, not a permanent vacation. You're still young-" "You're younger."

"You've got a lot of energy left, a lot to give, but you need to write a second act, Paul." "Thank you. I'm exploring my options." It had gotten noticeably cooler in the room and on the phone.

"Are you angry?" "No. If you were here, you'd see me smiling. I'm smiling." "Well, if I didn't love you, I wouldn't be saying these things." "I'm still smiling." "See you in a few weeks." She said, "Take care of yourself." "You, too." Silence, then, "Good night." "'Bye."

We both hung up. I stood, went to the bar, and made a drink. Scotch, splash of soda, ice.

I sat in my den, my feet on the desk, watching the snow outside. The Scotch smelled good.

So, there I was with a Danielle Steel novel on my desk, an unpleasant phone call still ringing in my ears, and an ominous message from Karl Hellmann on my computer screen.

Sometimes things that seem unconnected are actually part of a larger plan. Not your plan, to be sure, but someone else's plan. I was supposed to believe that Karl and Cynthia were not talking about me, but Mrs. Brenner didn't raise an idiot.

I should be pissed off when people underestimate my intelligence, though in truth, I affect a certain macho idiocy that encourages people to underestimate my brilliance. I've put a lot of people in jail that way.

I looked at the message again. 1600 hrs, tomorrow, the Wall. Not even "please." Colonel Karl Gustav Hellmann can be a bit arrogant. He's German-born, as the name suggests, whereas Paul Xavier Brenner is a typical Irish lad, from South Boston, charmingly irresponsible, and delightfully smart-assed. Herr Hellmann is quite the opposite. Yet, on some strange level, we got along. He was a good commander, strict but fair, and highly motivated. I just never trusted his motives.

Anyway, I sat up and banged out an e-mail to Karl: See you there and then.

I signed it, Paul Brenner, PFC, which, in this case, did not mean Private First Class, but meant, as Karl and I both knew, Private F-ing Civilian.

Copyright © 2002 by Nelson DeMille

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Up Country (Paul Brenner Series #2) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 189 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nelson Demille is, by far, my favourite author and a writer of substantial quality. All of his books are of the highest quality and a pleasure to read and re-read. Up Country is however, the only exception. Being many many pages in length it is certainly an interesting insight into the '68 Tet Offensive however it is lacking any worthy plot. The novel unfortunately reads as more of a set of war memoirs although I am pleased that Nelson has 'got this off his chest'! I even flew to the Vero Beach book centre to meet Nelson and for him to sign my copy so it's a shame I'm unlikely to read this novel again. An interesting read, but not a classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Upcountry mixes memories of the Vietnam War with an image of current Vietnam and how the war is still a part of their lives. It also tells a great story of a man who undertakes a mission, comes to terms with his past and falls in love. I couldn't put it down because at the end of each chapter something happens that makes you want to keep reading and I even started reading it again right after I finished it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My Brother was an infantry man with the 11th Armored Cav. in Viet Name in 66-67 and I could not believe what memeories this book brought back to me ---- like just waiting for letters from him to know he was still alive. I love Nelson DeMille and I love his books and thank him for writing this one - I told my brother and about it. It was funny because he has never talked much about his time in Viet Nam but he expressed a desire to read it. I know he will love this book - I am ordering it for him today.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was obviously very important to Mr. DeMille, returning to Vietnam in print to deal with his experiences both as soldier and visiting former soldier. The story is classic DeMille, well thought out and expertly unfolded as you turn the pages. The characters are definitely classic DeMille, full of wit and sarcasm. The only drawback to the book is that at times, it felt more like therapy for dealing with the horrors of the Vietnam War than a story; however, for those interested in 'primary history', it is good to read to understand how DeMille feels about his involvement in Vietnam.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved the book!! Interesting descriptions of the war and the country, made me feel as if I was there. The characters are as suprising as the events that happen along the story, I highly recommend it
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of DeMille's best. A bit on the long side, it tells a great story about discovery and healing past wounds of war. Great twists and turns, as well as excellent character developement.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great sequel to the General's Daughter, one may have problems putting this book down. An intriguing Vietnam experience, dealing with the past and present.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nelson DeMille's book, 'Up Country' is superb. His ability to weave a tapestry of Viet Nam's 'tinkling windchime,' an ambience that leaves the reader with a sense of exquisite Southeast Asian emptiness is perfect. I spent 3 tours in Vietnam, 1964-65; 1966; 1969-70, my first two tours as a marine infantryman, machinegunner and machinegun squad leader, and my last tour as a Marine CID agent assigned to Da Nang. I was later commissioned in the Army and served as an investigations officer. His character, Paul Brenner, portrayed by John Travolta in the movie, 'The General's Daughter,' truly typifies the modus operandi and 'signature' of the CWO CID Special Agent, intensely territorial, educated, highly trained and experienced, and always comtemptuous of arrogant authority, especially the fistulated mentality of the abusers of military authority, senior enlisted and commissioned officer personnel. 'Up Country' took me on a journey to my life many worlds ago - to a place that was and still is anachronistic - timecapsuled, French Indochina, Vietnam - the Michelin rubber plantations, the smell of joss sticks, villages with charcoal emanating from each home, blue-gray smoke rising into the evening air, the stench of rice paddies, a beautiful emerald land that in the end, compensated few of us. Death, life, courage, cowardice, gallantry, brutality, a pathos of sadness, all of these feelings, all of them lived in a moment while lifting a bodybag into a chopper the second day of an operation somewhere in I Corps, Phu Lac, or at the bottom of Viet Nam in the Rung Sat, Mekong, where the wounded soon became dead, putrifying beneath a poncho, those holy images of God, bloating, because marine engineers hadn't yet cleared a landing zone in triple canopied mangrove swamp forests. Viet Nam is a wonderful land. Her people are magnificent - warriors, sagacious, 'if you can't do it in this lifetime, do it in the next!' Nelson De Mille captured all of this in 'Up Country.' This must become a movie - John Travolta must reprise his role. If he declines, and I don't know why he would, a good alternate would be Mickey Rourke - he's tough, intelligent, quiet, introspective, aggressive, and 'Irish.' I give Nelson De Mille's book 5 STARS. Superb. Dr. Larry L. Kurtz
Melancholia More than 1 year ago
I read this when it came out in hardcover; couldn't put it down. Then I even ordered it in large print so when I grew old I could still manage to read it and now I bought it again in mass market to reread. It's his best story if you've lived through Vietnam in any way. It informed and helped heal me since that war brought so much tragedy to my life. DeMille has a great sense of humor always and he had been back to Vietnam many years later after serving in the military there.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great personal history of the war and an exciting murder investigation. Hopefully he will use the character Paul Brenner in an Abu Gharib investiogation, or something similar.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this novel centered on the Vietnam war. The character development is excellent, and follows the classic DeMille pattern of sarcasm,wit,and self discovery.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was riviting, as a Vietnam Vet it brought back many memories, some good, some bad. His eerie discription of battlefields such as the Ashau Valley and Khe Sanh were right on the mark. I envisioned myself as the character Paul Brenner as he followed his mission around Vietnam.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jas1633 More than 1 year ago
Great history of Viet war, great geog.lesson. Top, page turning story line.
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DeeMarieRoman More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down! Agree that this wasn't a "classic" but nonetheless was quite entertaining, gripping and told me some things I didn't know. One other downside, was the main character's stupidity in getting hooked up. Could have had a better ending, which I thought was quite unsatisfactory.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it!!  People who were there or who watched it on TV news every night (me as a 10 year old girl), this really gives the Vietnam war some perspective!!