The Aquitaine Progression, like Robert Ludlum’s other thrillers, is an incredibly complex multi-layered story that demands all a reader’s attention.
The main character is Joel Converse, an international lawyer and former Navy pilot. During the Vietnam War, Converse had been imprisoned by the North Vietnamese, escaping to freedom on his third attempt.
The novel’s action is too complicated to relate but the premise at the novel’s core is too believable to be forgotten.
A handful of highly placed military men—in the U.S., France, West Germany, England, Israel, and South Africa are planning to, in effect, take over Europe and Europe’s former colonies in the Americas.
Their plan is to take advantage of peaceful demonstrations to create chaos. The conspirators have trained men ready to attacking both the demonstrators and the demonstrator’s opponents without revealing their own identifies.
In the confusion, the conspirators will assassinate the leaders of the major democracies, expecting that lawlessness they’ve sparked will make people beg for strong military leaders to restore order: The military men have the trained troops and the munitions needed to do that.
Although Ludlum was writing in the ‘80s, it takes little imagination to see how the plot he imagines could play out today.
Mac Hyman’s No Time for Sergeants is a strictly-for-laughs novel about life in the military.
Will Stockdale’s father is opposed to his son being drafted, but Will never makes a fuss about anything.
From what Will tells, readers learn he’s an amiable, Georgia redneck, dumber than a box of wet rocks and totally innocent of how the world works.
(Andy Griffith played Pvt. Will Stockdale in the TV, Broadway, and film versions of the novel, which gives you an idea of the character’s personality. You can see Griffith as Will in the black-and-white film version at free movies.)
Bused off to camp to be sorted for duty, Will meets Ben Whitledge, a little guy with big dreams and military knowledge straight from the silver screen.
With the best of intentions, Will and Ben make total fools of the military — and never realize what they’ve done.
Hyman drew on his Air Force experience to create his picture of military life. Readers in 1954 would have understood the military processes that baffle Will and laughed at his ignorance. Readers in today’s post-conscription era will probably be little wiser than Will.
Today’s readers probably won’t laugh as heartily as 1950’s readers either. We’ve seen too many reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies to be delighted by redneck jokes.
In short, No Time for Sergeants is past its sell-by date.
No Time for Sergeants
By Mac Hyman
Random House, 1954
#6 on the 1954 bestseller list
My grade C-
The Judgment House is a complex novel about the marriage of a beautiful woman thwarted in love who settles for power.
Jasmine Grenfel loves the poor but ambitious diplomat Ian Stafford, but marries the unpolished Rudyard Byng and the three million pounds he’s made in South Africa.
Jasmine’s intelligence and social skills make their English home a center of political and financial power. Unfortunately, Jasmine is too self-centered to hear when her husband tells her he finds their London life meaningless.
Meanwhile, Byng’s financial and political interests are threatened by a traitor who is passing information to Paul Krueger, Byng’s and England’s arch enemy in South Africa. Byng refuses to think his native servant could be the traitor.
The second Boer War erupts as their Byng’s marriage teeters on the brink of collapse. Byng and Ian go off to fight for British interests in South Africa.
Jasmine takes advantage of the war to discretely leave her husband under the guise of running a hospital ship for the wounded soldiers.
In The Judgment House, Sir Gilbert Parker wrote a female lead as complex as Fleur Forsyte, a male lead as exciting as Rhett Butler, and a superb supporting cast, yet not one of the characters comes to life.
Gilbert pulls all the threads together with a too-neat, too romantic ending for a story that begs for mature realism. Sadly, Gilbert just doesn’t have the dialog-writing skill to make The Judgment House story real.
On this Memorial Day weekend, in honor of the American military I wanted to suggest a handful of good novels that reveal the courage and loyalty of America’s military without falling into sentimentality or glorifying war.
I was surprised to see how few novels I had to choose from. Among the almost 700 novels that made the bestseller lists from 1900 to 1969, few are about America’s military and even fewer portray the military in a positive light. Satirical send-ups like Rally Round the Flag, Boy don’t count, and it seems tactless to recommend novels such as Melville Godwin, U.S.A. as Memorial Day reading.
Judged by the number of novels it inspired, the most memorable of America’s wars is the War Between the States. Gone with the Wind, Action at Aquila, House Divided are just three of the novels about that conflict that made the bestseller lists. Their authors weren’t in the Civil War, but their families lived on its battlefields. As anyone who has lived in the South can testify, memories of those years are still vivid. The scabs of Civil War wounds haven’t sloughed off yet.
Instead of reading a book, go to a Memorial Day celebration. You’ll get closer to the real military men and women who deserve your gratitude there than in the pages of a second-rate novel.
Rally Round the Flag, Boys is a tale of the Cold War era written by Max Shulman, the man who gave the world Dobie Gillis. As you might expect, it’s stupid stuff, but funny.
Second Lieutenant Guido di Maggio has been ordered to Fairbanks, Alaska. He doesn’t want to go. He has a girlfriend back home in Putnam’s Landing, Connecticut, and he doesn’t want to leave her.
When Guido hears a Nike missile facility is being built in Putnam’s Landing, he gets himself appointed PR man for the project, much to the dismay of Captain Walter Hoxie, assigned to head the base. Hoxie hates civilians and anybody who likes civilians.
Determined to keep out of Alaska, Guido maps his strategy and makes a strong start. People rally around the project.
A few teenage boys are unhappy that their girlfriends are throwing them over for soldiers, but Guido doesn’t notice until it’s way too late.
All the book’s characters are drawn with sit-com strokes. There’s not enough substance to any of them to make a good novel, but Shulman makes them credible for as long as it takes to tell the story.
You’ll enjoy Rally Round the Flag, Boys the day after you have 24-hour flu.
Rally Round the Flag, Boys
By Max Shulman
#4 on the 1957 bestseller list
My Grade: D+