Written by: Lou Rera
In the opening chapters of this novel I immediately could sense the difference between a researched work versus one gleaned from experience. The author, Adam Fenner, is no stranger to life in a war zone. He served in both the US Marine Corp and the Nevada National Guard. Fenner writes expertly of military protocol and chain of command issues, both morally and legally. But it’s not just the nuances of life in the military and the dangerous job of soldiers in a combat situation that Fenner gives us. In O.P.#7 (Observation Point) we explore the lives of men and women forced to live and work together in extremely dangerous situations, and somehow carry on their lives like some cross-cultured neighborhood with a smattering of a well placed cross-section of the America we all live in.
O.P.#7 revs up the tension and makes the reader see what these soldiers see. Afghanistan might be a beautiful place in another time and in a different world, but it’s nothing but a foreboding environment with uncertainties around every corner. Even in a “normal” war zone the ability to relax is minimal. In Fenner’s Afghanistan, it’s damn near impossible. These soldiers have a job to do, but it’s obvious they’d rather be somewhere else.
Military procedure is clear on how tactical stages are important for both security and advancing the mission. Sergeant Trent Stone is our turn-to guy, though the mission is lead by Sergeant Uhlrich, who is dislikable and as the story progresses, alienates himself from his platoon and the situation they find themselves in. Fenner does this to build strength and trust in Stone by the other members of the platoon.
Like all good horror stories, the characters don’t realize whats happening to them. Their fear in being absorbed slowly like liquid in a sponge and individual experiences are written off to just a bad dream. (The rest of this paragraph contains a spoiler) Fenner uses this dream device quite effectively at first, cleverly and graphically opening up scenes with murder and mayhem, only to be yanked back to the “nothing really happened” breath of fresh air. I found the dream sequences graphic and explicit, and it does ramp up the tension, though after a few times of taking the reader there, I felt we’ve been there before, time to move on.
Uhlrich’s platoon, or I should say Stone’s, secure an Afghani home as part of the regular process of securing a much larger area, hence the O.P. designation. The soldiers make it their base of operations for four days. It’s a claustrophobic environment. And as this story progresses, a claustrophobic place for the reader. Not all is well in this house. The Afghani parents and two children are terrified, not of the soldiers, but of something more lethal that inhabits this home and valley.
Fenner touches on some larger issues of prejudice, sexual assault, homosexuality, and religion and religious differences. His characters seemed to be a modern version of E.M. Nathanson’s, “Dirty Dozen.” A cross-section of personalities. Fenner writes of desire and nightmarish want, and how even the most stoic of us have their breaking point.
After the reader is introduced to military terms like MRE (Meals Ready to Eat) the author could have dropped the overused reference to the MRE. We get it. In one scene of extreme terror, Fenner brings us back into the kitchen for a meal. Would someone really eat after what had been happening (no spoiler here)?
The underlying theme of this horror novel is the enemy. In all wars, propaganda works best when we demonize the enemy. If we are fighting someone less than human, it’s more palatable to get rid of them. The U.S. was brilliant in using this technique in WWII as seen in the image of the less than human Nazi. (look familiar–Darth Vader). So in this regard Fenner gives us more than the enemy, but a truly demonic force with the strength to beat us. And as in all heroic stories, it’s the culmination of thinking beyond the scope of ability that brings true leadership and victory.
Much happens in this story, the larger questions of faith and the strength of faith are front and center. As legendary boxer Joe Louis once said during WWII when he was fighting in the war, “We will win because we are on God’s side.” Fenner doesn’t attempt to answer these questions, but he does nudge us a little.
The novel doesn’t skirt around the issue of military suicide, and though this is a work of fiction, there is a sad truth to this. Some explicable others no so (I looked up statistics on this: average 22 per day).
This is a quick read with lots of action. There is a good deal of gore, but hey, “War is hell.” Adam Fenner’s got a knack for great description and strong characters, though his story structure sometimes seems stuck in familiar devices at times, and what works well once, need not be repeated. He could use another proofing on the version I had read since there were a few typos. Other than those things, if you are looking for a good war story horror book—this is a great choice.
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