Saturday, January 21, 2012

You Can’t Always Know Who the Good Guys Are

After a tour of duty in Afghanistan, former rock star wannabe Vin Sarno returns to his Savannah homestead to figure out where he wants to spend the next chapter of his life. Shortly after returning home he decides to kill time by helping with his father’s “Ghost Tour” business. Doing midnight walking tours through Old Savannah brings back memories of Kabul, including a bad experience with some real spooks he encountered during a short prison stint in that shattered land.

You Can't Always Know Who the Good Guys Are is journalist Gerald Flanagan’s first novel and once it gets going it’s a riveting nail-biter. The pace at first feels like the angst of an existential stain squeezed from an over-sized abscess. But once Flanagan paints the setting, the story is a runaway train and though you’ve been down this track before the only thing you know for sure is that your hero will never be the same.

In the midst of everything is an unrequited love with ambiguous possibilities. Aliyah is the daughter of a Taliban chieftain who finds it impossible to believe Sarno can bring her the deliverance she so longs for from this insane life she’s endured. There are few places on earth where it is more difficult to be a woman.

Flanagan, who served as an embedded journalist in the Iraq war also lived in Karachi, Pakistan and Kabul where he reported on the hunt for Osama bin Laden for two British magazines and the Washington Post. With ease he paints the scenery which serves as backdrop for the story.

The Savannah portions of the book have just enough levity to release some of the tension readers will experience. The graveyard and ghost stories that have become entertainments today contain kernels of horror that find echoes amongst the Taliban. The manner in which the author takes the impossible and convinces readers that it is probable is quite astonishing.

Perhaps at the root of the story is Sarno's pain at knowing that his future with Aliyah can never work out, and that the entire mission of his life has been an epic struggle in futility. Nevertheless he knows no other path.

What I like most about the book is when Flanagan causes the story to intersect with real events, including when Pat Tillman was killed by "friendly fire" and the first attempt on Osama bin Laden near the caves below the Khyber Pass. The net result is to create the impression that this fictional adventure/drama may actually be a true account of events that journalists are restricted from writing about.

Ultimately, if you can't find the book at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble, the reason might be that this review is itself a fictional review of a fictional book. If you like fiction, especially the kind where you have trouble discerning the line between real and improbable, you may enjoy my own books of short stories, especially Unremembered Histories and Newmanesque.

In the meantime, have a great weekend. There is always more to look forward to. And tonight, if you're in Duluth looking for something to do, visit Beaners Central to hear singer/songwriter Caitlin Robertson perform at Seven. Heartwarming music, and good java for a cold January night.

Unless otherwise noted, all paintings and illustrative material at this site has been created by Ennyman.

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