I could have listed a hundred things I liked about her and valued in her. But I knew I would never love her. The Newtonian universe doesn’t seek justice, only equilibrium.
I’ve come to admire Ralph Peters as a top-flight novelist, but I’m just too shell-shocked, after reading Hell to Richmond (reviewed down the page), to try another of his big Civil War novels. So I thought I’d try a smaller book, The Officers’ Club. This is another fine story, but it left me with questions.
Lt. Roy Banks is an officer with Military Intelligence in 1981. But he’s not exactly in the center of the action. He’s drafting training exercises at Fort Huachaca, Arizona. This is the end of the Carter era, and the country’s malaise is even worse in the Army. Bored, undertrained, and undersupplied soldiers fake their work, and party hard after hours. Roy is part of a small group wryly called “The Officer’s Club,” an alternative to the bland pleasures of the real facility on base. They like to run down to Mexico, drink themselves sick, have lots of sex, and sometimes do some drugs. Worse things go on too, but Roy tries to keep clear of that. He’s also having an affair with a married female fellow officer.
Then Jessie Lamoureaux is murdered. There’s no shortage of suspects. Beautiful, seductive, and devious, Lt. Lamoureaux worked her way through most of the males in Roy’s circle – except for Roy himself. For some reason he found her repellant.
Very little of this book is devoted to the mystery of Jessie’s murder. Most of it traces the course of events that led up to the crime. The plot reminded me of nothing so much as one of those cable miniseries where soap opera combines with sex and violence. However, Peters’ writing is on a much higher plane. Aside from his elegant prose, he creates well-rounded characters who (in many cases) surprise you.
I’m not sure I entirely understood The Officers’ Club. I think there’s a metanarrative here, related to conditions in the Carter era, that I never quite grasped. And a couple plot details never got resolved – I wonder if the answers were hidden and I just missed them.
I should caution you that the voice of morality in this book is a sympathetic homosexual record store owner whom Roy befriends. And one of the few cardboard characters is a born-again Christian (this is a little surprising, coming from the author who created the Abel Jones novels).
But I still enjoyed The Officers’ Club immensely, and got entirely caught up in it. Recommended, if you don’t mind a lot of profanity, sex, and a certain amount of violence.