Joe Burgess and Reggie Libby looked out for each other in high school and in Vietnam. Now, Joe still looks out for Reggie because he isn’t capable of looking out for himself. Joe returned intact, returned to society, and serves successfully as a sergeant on the Portland, Maine police department. Reggie returned, too, physically whole but bringing with him the demons of alcohol and a disintegrating mental state.. He married, and fathered a son, but gradually began to inhabit the world in which he was the only resident. Joe and Reggie’s brother, Clay, work together to help him cope with life, but as Reggie gets older reality retreats further into the past.
One beautiful weekend in October, two excited boys tell Joe that there is a body floating in the harbor. Joe is saddened but not surprised that it is Reggie. Whether accident or suicide, Reggie’s death carries a certain inevitability. That is until the death is ruled a homicide. Reggie might have been an annoyance to friends and family, but what motive could there be for killing him? Joe is too experienced to be surprised that even a man with nothing can still stand in the way of avarice. Reggie has the additional misfortune of being surrounded by some of the most repugnant solid citizens Portland has to offer.
REDEMPTION continues the excellent Joe Burgess series that includes PLAYING GOD and THE ANGEL OF KNOWLTON PARK. REDEMPTION veers into history with the introduction of Reggie, the tormented Vietnam vet. One boy I grew up with died in Vietnam. I use the word “boy” because he was nineteen when he died, denied the life of a man in full. H was the only one I knew who went to southeast Asia; all the other males in my group escaped the draft by enrolling in school. That’s an ethical debate for another time and another place but overwhelmingly, the soldiers who served were from the lower socio-economic level. Eisenhower got the US involved in Vietnam, Kennedy sent more troops in, and Johnson got the blame for something over which he had little control. All was done to prevent the domino theory from taking hold, preventing other countries in the area from falling to the communists. Clearly, history has proven that the plan didn’t work.
The soldiers who were sent to Vietnam were unprepared for what they would confront. Troops in the Pacific theatre of World War II had experienced jungle warfare so the military was able to provide some degree of insight into the problems that came with the territory but they were not prepared to fight an unidentified enemy. How does a boy from Maine distinguish between women and children from the south and those from the north? How can anyone tell in an instant if a woman is carrying a baby or a bomb? War in Vietnam didn’t have rules. War in Vietnam did give soldiers access to drugs.
When the soldiers returned to the United States, they weren’t welcomed as heroes who served their country. They were taunted as baby killers. The VA didn’t have the hospital space or the medical personnel to treat the minds of the men who had seen terrible things. In creating Reggie, the author encapsulates all the soldiers who brought the jungle home with them. Redemption can be defined as deliverance or rescue. REDEMPTION is an apt title.