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The Valley

ARRSE Rating
2.5 Mushroom Heads
The author of this tale is an ex US Army Officer who served as a field artillery officer in Iraq. So what's it all about? Well at times that's the question I was asking myself as I read this debut novel which is set in a far off valley in Afghanistan.

The outlining story is of a young 'LT', that American speak for Lieutenant, the LT name is Black and he is employed in his battalion's HQ in the records office and has no front line operational experience. One day he is called into his CO's office to be told that he has been assigned as the investigating officer in a 15-6. A 15-6 in the US Army code for an investigation into a complaint. The young officer is somewhat taken aback when it transpires that he will be leaving HQ and going “up the valley“, it will be a seven day task and as he thumbs through the docket he learns he has less than 24 hours to prepare'.

The matter in which he is investigating is a trivial warning shot that damaged a villagers house and a goat which was shot dead. Black can't believe that he has been chosen for this but his CO is having none of it and tells Black he wants it sown up within the week.

Now as stories go this outline for a mission in Afghanistan sounds a tad weak, what with everything that goes on out there the US Army is investigating a shot goat? To be honest that's what Black thinks as well but orders are orders.

Now the first eight chapters of this book are somewhat slow and to be honest I found it a bit of a struggle, however once Black leaves HQ for the journey Norththe story soon takes a turn for the better.

Black arrives with the convoy in the dead of night and after the convoy quickly unloads supplies they leave, leaving Black looking around in the pitch dark wondering why there isn't someone to meet him. Eventually he meets Sgt Caine who unceremoniously crashes him to the ground in the mistaken believe that he is an insurgent who has got in to the compound under the cover of the convey.

Having brushed himself down Black and the reader are taken on a tour of the complex which was a local Chiefs house until taken over by the incumbent platoon. Black asks to see the LT but is somewhat taken aback when he is informed that LT Pistone is not at the base but is on his way to HQ, having left on the same convoy that bought Black, not the best of starts into this investigation as regulations state he must liaise with the OIC.

The next morning Caine takes Black to meet Senior Sgt Merrick who in the absence of LT Pistone is in command. Now being an ex military man myself I found the way both Sgts addressed the LT somewhat unbelievable, still this is the US Army but they were not shy in showing their contempt for the man who was there to investigate why a goat had been shot!

After the meeting Black interviews a few soldiers who again show little or no respect for the LT. Black informs Merrick that he needs to go to the village where the incidents took place and when Black meets the chief of the village the investigation goes from bad to worse.

Now the book at times is somewhat confusing with Black going off on his own and more and more characters been introduced into what seems on the face of it to be a trivial matter; in fact I thought on more than one occasion I had misplaced the book mark and I that I may have missed a few pages or even a chapter, I hadn't, and again the book fell into a phase where one thought, what's the point, where is this leading? But not in a good way where a good mystery thriller would take you. And that's the problem with this book, it never really knows what it is. Is it a thriller? A mystery story, a military story or all three and more rolled into one? Having read the book I'm still not sure myself.

The story does I believe become over complicated and loses itself, which is a shame because there were large parts of the book I enjoyed but overall I would suggest a trip to the library rather than a book shop!

I would have liked to have given this three mushroom heads but in the end I could only give 2.5.

The mark of a good book to me is that at the end I think, “that was a bloody good book that, I enjoyed that“. Unfortunately in this case it was more““ thank goodness for that“.
Gout Man
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