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Robert Stone: Dog Soldiers

This novel was one of the first literary novels written about the Vietnam War and was as grim as it gets. Part of the grimness stems from the fact that, for Stone, the situation in the States is just as fucked up as it is in Vietnam, with the novel more or less ending in an old-style shoot-out. Of course, Stone is making the point that the situation in Vietnam and the situation in the States are not separate but irredeemably linked.

John Converse is a journalist in Saigon when he gets an offer he cannot refuse. He is offered $40,000 to transport three kilos of heroin back to the States. He persuades an ex-Marine, Roy Hicks, who is returning home, to carry it and hand it over to Marge, Converse’s wife, who will pass it on. Of course, it goes wrong. Hicks, who thinks of himself as a sort of a samurai, is too cocky, though he does manage to ward off the two thugs who try to take the drugs from him when he is delivering them to Marge. Hicks and Marge flee to a cabin and they have a sort of relationship but not a particularly passionate one but rather one that recalls Rheinhardt and Geraldine in Hall of Mirrors, a sort of relationship of convenience. The pair try to sell the heroin but make a mess of that and flee to a hippie commune in the desert.

Meanwhile Converse has returned to the States and is immediately set upon by the thugs whose boss, of course, is a federal agent. Converse has no idea where the drugs are but the agent and his thugs take him along to the commune, to put pressure on Marge to give up the drugs. It all ends up nastily, with bodies all over the place and no-one coming out of the mess happy or healthy. Stone is not, of course, trying to paint a pretty picture. John Converse, a weak man, gets his kicks from the danger he is in, while Roy Hicks still fancies himself as a samurai, fighting the good fight and saving his lady. Even Dieter, leader of the commune, has let things go to pot (pun intended). In short, it is all fucked up.

Publishing history

First published 1974 by Houghton Mifflin