4 out of 4 stars
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War changes people. The Juicy Fruit Man is a tale of an army Ranger who served in Vietnam. Now that he has been discharged from duty on medical grounds, the physical demons of war are a thing of the past. Unfortunately, an even more formidable foe emerges. One that neither gun nor grenade can neutralise. Declan Noakes now has to perpetually fight the inherent mental demons triggered by the horrors of war. In a bid to silence his tormentors, Declan tries attending AA meetings, reading the Bible and simultaneously smoking and selling the marijuana he smuggled from Thailand. These demons become the excuse for his unethical and/ or illegal activities.
The one component of post war that he still truly treasures is family, particularly his cousin Rachel and her three children. In smuggling the marijuana (Thai Sticks/ Juicy Fruit), he enlists the help of Rachel and an army buddy named Ben Fisher. Betrayal is difficult to fathom from someone once considered honourable. When Fisher decided he deserved a commission for helping Declan, it gets complicated. Now, he wants the entire spoils. Matters are worsened when a pair of crooked Amtrak officers get wind of the potentially massive pay-out. They will stop at nothing to get the marijuana for themselves. Declan has to literally go back to war in order to keep his family safe and retain his Juicy Fruit.
I'm glad this book provided different vintage points from the perspectives of returning war veterans. There is that war vet who decides that living life to the fullest means using his army training to acquire wealth illegally. Another returns from war, finds a job, gets married and lives a life generally considered normal. One completely struggles to cope. They end up with no house, no job and no romantic interest. His or her life will probably be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with no counselling and no hope. Another thought provoking discussion in the book is on the initial reason for war. Is it to help and protect other countries or to protect personal interests?
What I liked most about the book is the perfect pace. The writing style is unapologetic and blunt. The storyline has a very fluid flow. Given this pace, it is surprising that LaMar Going manages to maintain the suspense, thrill and mystery going. This showcases exceptional writing skills that are evidence of vast experience. The book in my opinion was professionally edited. I picked up a few minor typos.
As this plot has war, it is expected that there will be death. The author describes the killings in gruesome detail. There is profanity throughout the book. I must highlight that in light of the storyline and characters, the language is downright appropriate. I personally did not mind because I felt the doses of profanity and killings were right and were necessary in bringing the story to life. I would thereby recommend that this book only be for a mature audience and those that will not be affected by war, death and murder.
What I disliked most is the book title. Being unfamiliar with other LaMar Going's books, the title did not appeal to me. From the title alone, there is no way I would have been compelled to read it. I also wish that the special private book description didn't pre-empt the conclusion of the fight. It would have been better not knowing whether or not Declan survived and managed to keep the marijuana. Going forward, should I come across this author's books, I will be very eager to read them.
I rate this book, gladly, four out of four stars because frankly, I struggled to put it down. I kept getting that itch to know what happened next. Any rating under four stars is for me inappropriate for such a captivating and well written book. It is also evident that the author conducted in-depth research.
The Juicy Fruit Man
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