Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Gone 'til November"

Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and a former editor at the Newark Star-Ledger. He is the author of the acclaimed novels The Heartbreak Lounge and the Barry Award-finalist The Barbed-Wire Kiss.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Gone 'til November, and reported the following:
Page 69 of Gone 'til November finds Sara Cross, a single mom and the only female deputy in a rural Florida sheriff’s department, having a troubling conversation with her boss, Sheriff Hammond, in his office. A few nights earlier, Sara had witnessed a shooting incident in which a fellow deputy killed a young black man during what should have been a routine motor vehicle stop. Complicating things is that the deputy, Billy Flynn, is also Sara’s ex-lover. As more details emerge about the shooting, Sara finds herself torn between love and duty, loyalty and the truth.

Hammond, a Vietnam vet, is cautioning her to steer clear of Flynn while the investigation proceeds. Some hard decisions may need to be made along the way, he warns, and he doesn’t want her getting caught up in whatever happens next. She – and her career – could both wind up as collateral damage.

He’s right, of course, more than he knows. But it’s also too late. Soon, an aging – but still deadly – enforcer for a New Jersey drug gang shows up with his own questions about the shooting – and the now-missing duffel bag of cash that was in the trunk.

But the heart of the conversation comes on page 70, when Hammond recalls his time with the “Rough Riders,” trucking supplies in to the besieged Marine base at Khe Sanh, along Vietnam’s treacherous Highway Nine. Through late 1967 and early 1968, Khe Sanh was under constant attack, while six thousand Marines successfully held off a vastly superior enemy force.

Hard choices were the order of the day then as well, Hammond says:
“They’d have one of us in a tanker truck, driving five thousand gallons of JP-4, sandbags on the floor, an M-16 and that’s it. One man. I made that run about a dozen times. Saying every prayer I knew along the way.”

“Maybe it helped.”

“Maybe it did. But what I didn’t find out until later was the philosophy behind it, the way it operated. Our guys were getting blown up all the time, mines, snipers, RPGs. There was no way to hold and control the jungle around the road. The logistics officers figured we were losing an average of three to five percent of everything that tried to get through. No matter what they did. Three to five percent of the supplies lost, three to five percent of the men killed.”

“That must have been tough.”

“You know what solution they came up with?”

She shook her head.

“Add five percent more men, supplies, trucks. Make your losses sustainable. Get more trucks, more men out on that road so you can lose five percent without impacting the efficiency of the base. And it made sense, unless you were one of those guys that didn’t get through, or their families.”

“Doesn’t seem fair.”

“Fair or not, it worked. And you know what that’s called?”


“Management. Take it easy out there, Sara. Be safe.”
Read an excerpt from Gone 'til November, and learn more about the author and his novels at the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue