Few can understand the horrors of war if they have never put their lives on the line for their country, but the family members of soldiers have an intimate knowledge of that stress and pain. In The Chief and His Marine, author B.A. Sherman brings some of the challenges and tragedies of war into stark detail, shedding light on a subject that is pushed under the rug, or tacitly avoided, far too often.
This novel wastes no time in getting into the action, introducing readers to the titular Chief Platte character, who appears to still be reeling from the loss of his friend and old classmate, Lt. Murphy. However, the opportunity to deal a bit of death in return soon arises, and he is eager to take his shot and unload some of the burden weighing on his shoulders. Unfortunately, when you take men into a hot combat zone, there is always the risk of losing even more dedicated soldiers.
Burying young men, only to raise the next generation and send them off into a different hellish world of war, is a taxing and heart-rending experience for the protagonist, but he must balance duty and honor with the emotional bonds that he forms with the men under his command. There is a strange peace that can be found in the United States for a soldier, but that is juxtaposed expertly in this book with riveting action sequences and intense scenes in the field of battle.
Far from treating wartime as fodder for an action thriller, the book is also a realistic portrayal of military life – and especially life on the battlefield. For those who have never taken the time to consider the sacrifice of our soldiers, or who think of their duties as “just another job,” this novel will open your mind and leave you indelibly changed.
The writing is gritty and authentic, with the dialogue between Marines striking sincere notes in almost every scene. This is not an assumption of what life would be like in Afghanistan, but rather an authoritative depiction, with details and moments that seem directly ripped from experience. Considering that the author has been in law enforcement for more than 25 years, he has a strong respect for duty and sacrifice, but he also has a gift for fiction, because some of these scenes read more like a memoir than a novel.
That being said, the technical quality of the writing falters at times, with many grammatical errors and dozens of accidental spelling mistakes. While this wasn’t hugely distracting, it is something that could easily be remedied with a quick, superficial edit. Aside from that, the pace of the novel is fast and consistent, with few wasted words and an urgency to the writing that matches the personality of the protagonist.
As a whole, The Chief and His Marine is a deeply affecting read – an emotional and sincerely patriotic novel that will inspire empathy for everything soldiers have to go through in service of their country.
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