Once in a great while there comes a novel of such emotional impact and acute insight that it forever changes the way a reader sees a nation or an era. Writing with an unerring sense of suspense and of history experienced firsthand, James Webb takes us on a myth-shattering cultural odyssey deep into the heart of contemporary Vietnam, with a riveting thriller that tells a love story — love for those who perished, for family and friends, and between a soldier and the land where he had always been ready to die.
Brandon Condley survived five years of combat as a U.S. Marine only to lose the woman he loved to an enemy assassin. Now he is back in Vietnam, working to recover the remains of unknown American soldiers. On a routine mission, Condley finds a body that doesn’t match its dog tags — a body that propels him into a vortex of violence and intrigue where past and present become one.
As the mystery of the dead man unravels, a link is revealed to two well-known killers: “Salt and Pepper,” a pair of treasonous Americans who led a deadly Viet Cong ambush against Condley’s own men. Galvanized by a fresh trail to these long-lost deserters, Condley has finally found a purpose: Under the auspices of his government job, he is going to hunt down the traitors. On his own, he is going to kill them.
Condley’s hunt cannot be kept secret from his former enemies, or his friends. And in the shadows that linger from Vietnam’s long season of darkness and terror, he has no way of knowing which side is more dangerous.
Surrounding him is an unforgettable cast of characters: Dzung, Condley’s closest friend, a South Vietnamese war hero who might have led his country if his side had won the war, now reduced to driving a cyclo as his family starves in Saigon’s District Four. Colonel Pham, a battle-hardened Viet Cong soldier who lost three children to American bombs. Manh, a cutthroat Interior Ministry official who blackmails Dzung into a mission of murder. The Russian soldier Anatolie Petrushinsky, who left his soul in Vietnam as his empire collapsed around him. And the beautiful Van, Colonel Pham’s daughter, who spurns the scars of war as she pursues her dreams of freedom.
As Condley stalks his elusive prey across old battlefields and throughout Eurasia, returning always to the brooding streets of Saigon, his mission — and the odds of his surviving it — grow more precarious with each step he takes toward the truth.
Lost Soldiers captures the Vietnam of past and present — its beauty and squalor, its politics and people. Propelled by a page-turning mystery, shot through with adventure and intrigue, it irrevocably transforms our view of that haunted land and brings us as complete an understanding as we will ever have of what happened after the war — and why. No writer today is more qualified to take us into that world than James Webb.
From the Hardcover edition.