Book Review: ‘The Valley,’ by John Renehan

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By Eric Reyes

“You’re going up the valley.”

An order, a fact, an epitaph. Lieutenant Black of the United States Army, banished and reassigned to a desk after a tragic failure of his command in combat, is informed by his commanding officer that he is to investigate a minor incident involving some U.S. soldiers and Afghan locals.

No casualties, no real problems to sort out, but the Army is as the Army does, and everything on paper is the gospel truth, investigated, sanctified and chronicled down to the last key stroke on the incident report.

Black is done, personally and professionally, and prepared to resign his commission and try and put everything behind him; the Army, Afghanistan, his failure, everything. But, being as low on the totem pole as he is, both in rank and regard, Black cannot argue nor refuse when placed on the assignment.

High in the imposing and mysterious mountains somewhere in Nuristan, a legendarily harsh post in a legendarily harsh land among legendarily harsh people, he finds soldiers at the edge of the world. The edge of the great chain of supply and support: a rough, tribal group of men who view his rank and his purpose in their territory with equal parts disdain and suspicion.

There is a general unease among the men, a reticence that goes beyond the, frankly, mundane questions Black poses in the course of his investigation. As the days pass, and stories become incongruent, hazy, full of holes and outright fabrications, Black begins to pick at the edge of what lies beneath a seemingly insignificant incident.

Missing soldiers, outposts that don’t exist, battles that everybody remembers differently, heavy-handed opposition from the men’s leaders — something is awry, becoming more and more elusive the further he digs. Meanwhile, all across the valley, like some great silent inferno, armed men begin to encircle the isolated outposts of Americans, guided by a seemingly omnipotent agent betraying weaknesses and strategic flaws.

A disgraced officer. Uneasy and mistrustful soldiers. Dead men who never lived nor died. Heroin. Betrayal. Jihad. Black may wear the same uniform as the men holding The Valley against the lethal unknown, but he is a stranger in a strange land, an outsider, as foreign to the soldiers and their intrigues as the Americans are to the Afghanis and their codes of honor.

“The Valley” is a true crime novel hidden in the folds of a military adventure, laced with detective pulp and the topical, all too real essence of modern warfare in Afghanistan. “The Valley” is a powerhouse of a novel guaranteed to keep readers on their toes, with their heads on a swivel and the pages turning until the explosive finale.

I would rate it 10 out of 10, and recommend this book to both casual and dedicated readers of military, true crime, and mystery novels, alike.

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