Friday, May 01, 2009

Certain Jeopardy; Struecker & Gansky

Certain Jeopardy is a military thriller written by Cpt. Jeff Struecker and Alton Gansky and will be published by B & H Publishing this month. I received an ARC of this book for the purposes of this review & where cited, the page numbers refer to the ARC I was given. There are some spoilers at the end this review, and I apologize ahead of time for that. I had serious issues with certain sections of the book. In order to address my concerns I decided that revealing some of the plot points was necessary. I want to say upfront that despite my concerns and issues with some of the plot problems I very much enjoyed this book. It's absolutely an edge of your seat, stay up late & finish no matter how early you have to get up.

Military thriller is a genre I don't read very much, although I often enjoy them when I do read them- particularly when they are well done. I will say up front that my personal history colors my views about this genre: my husband served in the combat arms branch of the US military back in the days before cell phones & internet service, never mind satellite cell & internet. I have found it impossible to read military thrillers or military romances without my "real world" experiences coloring my impressions. Certain Jeopardy can be divided into two POVs: the homefront and theater actions. The wives and the guys, if you will.

A small squad of Army special forces enlisted soldiers gets tasked to deploy on a mission to Venezuela for some intelligence gathering. As is typical for these things, there is no prior warning & the soldiers are not allowed to tell their families any basic information any family (military or civilian) might like to have: what, where, when, how long, etc. After the squad arrives and sets up, the situation rapidly becomes more dangerous for a variety of reasons. As I have no direct combat experience, I can't vouch for how realistic these sections might be. Having spent quite a significant amount of time with combat soldiers, IMO the rhythm and tone of their interactions is familiar.

It was nice to read an action thriller that's set amid current political issues in a pair of countries I've not seen used as a backdrop for covert military action in a book. The premise is well thought out: the US squad arrives in Venezuela to do their surveillance and the Venezuelans, coincidentally, have 'hotted' things up a bit by kidnapping a nuclear scientist and holding his family hostage. It was fun, I enjoyed this part.

The authors were careful to show just how hard it is for the service member and the spouse left behind to cope with everyday events. Regardless of which spouse is staying home, it's always hard to shoulder both roles when a spouse is deployed. Doubly so when the service member is totally out of contact. Life goes on in all of its messy, overscheduled, drama laden ways no matter how tired or stressed the partner is. I appreciated that about this novel- the life of a spouse left behind is not a bed of roses. Then again- when your service member is literally out of touch? Whining, berating the spouse for the career s/he chose, complaining about anything the service member can't help you with right then? Pointless & stressful for the soldier who is deployed far far away & can't do a damn thing to actually help you. Do both of you a favor & call someone else & bitch.

The conflict between what a soldier may be called to do & what he may believe is morally right is also well done. One of the squad members struggles with what needs to be done in terms of getting the task accomplished successfully & the fact that he's no longer as sure as he once was that the ends justify the means. Too, the depiction of faith as the bulwark that sustains and eases the day to day crises and problems of the spouses and families left behind during all too frequent deployments was wonderful. In my personal experience faith was critical in sustaining families during deployments.

It's two of the wives' parts I have issues with. Specifically with the storyline of the pregnant wife. Every combat unit we were with, the squad and platoon leaders wives understood that they were to contact the top of the phone tree if there were any problems. Anything. Anytime. Problem number one: the squad leader's wife, Stacy, has no idea why this other woman is calling her since they don't actually know each other. Hello?? You're the squad leader's wife. It's part of the territory. Poor Lucy called the top of the phone tree for help- just as she was supposed to. Doesn't matter if Stacy knows her or not. Stacy should have known that once the men deployed she would be the point of contact for the squad wives. Problem two: once the seriousness of the problem with Lucy was known, the squad leader's wife would have contacted the chain of command for help, as well as the American Red Cross. This never happens. She contacts the chaplain- which is fine as far as it goes. But that's not all that would have happened. Neither of these are minor things for me. These are important flaws in the wives' part of the story. The wives' story, the home front story should get as much accuracy as the action sections.

The other problem I have with this aspect of the story is that Lucy is said to be twelve weeks from her due date. (p. 107) A normal pregnancy is forty weeks. This puts Lucy at twenty eight weeks pregnant. No matter what medical problem is happening with the mother or her pregnancy, a twenty eight week gestation- a 28 week baby- has an almost guaranteed survival rate if the child is delivered alive. Mr. Struecker and Mr. Gansky write that Lucy and her baby have such a problem that the physicians want to abort the pregnancy. (p. 171) No physician, no obstetrician, would abort a living child to save the mother in the instance of the medical problem described, at the gestation this character was said to be. Deliver the baby, absolutely. Put the baby in NICU, put the mom in ICU, absolutely. Abort a living child when the pregnancy jeopardizes the mother's life??! Absolutely not. A baby delivered at that gestation is likely to live. Obstetricians would want the best outcome for both the mother and the child- would want both to live. There is nothing implied to be wrong with the baby, so..if there's a NICU, then they could deliver the child & save both of them. Right? No NICU? Then they would have been transported to a facility where there was one. How do I know all this? My loving & devoted ex combat arms soldier husband became an Army OB/GYN nurse.

My only other negative reaction to Certain Jeopardy is the death of the nonbeliever. The only squad member who actively criticizes Christian faith dies. I thought his death was an unnecessary swipe at those readers who might be unchurched. A thinly veiled commentary, if you will. IMO this character's conversion after his experiences would've had much more impact- positive impact at that.

Despite the problems I had with this book I enjoyed it very much. The depiction of home life and theater action was superb. An excellent book, well worth reading, especially if you're interested in a true to life glimpse of what military life is like for the combat branches.

This title is available in paperback from as well as in ebook form for the Kindle.

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