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D. Z. Church
Pay Back
D. Z. Church, author
Disgraced, CDR Byron Cooper is given one last chance aboard an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea as the North Vietnamese surround Saigon. While two acquaintances from opposite worlds call in their markers, sending Laury Cooper careening back to Saigon. As Saigon falls, both brothers face their future, a future endangered by greed, desire, treachery, and drugs. One of them will do anything to win. Pay Back is the third novel in the Cooper Quartet, the story of a military family set against the turbulence of the Vietnam Era. It is April 1975. The U.S. has withdrawn leaving only a few Marines to protect the U.S. Embassy and Airbase HQ. As the North Vietnamese close in on Saigon, journalist stay on to report the advance, South Vietnamese beg to leave, and the U.S. is ready to forget.
Vietnam-era Navy veteran Church writes with authority and skill in her gripping third Cooper thriller (after Head First). Taking place over a week and a half in 1975 in the waning days of the Vietnam War, this suspense-filled novel toggles between Vietnam and the Michigan suburbs, bubbling with fresh intrigue at every turn, as Navy and Marine brothers Laury and Byron Cooper balance their own interests with the U.S.’s. They’re not the only ones with secrets: Laury’s new wife, Kate, has a history she hasn’t divulged, and his daughters, Jolie and Emilie, aren’t telling all they know about friends and foes. Multiple lives are at stake in nearly every chapter.

Church skillfully draws readers into her meticulously researched and fast-paced tale with skillful worldbuilding that allows readers to practically smell the gunpowder as dangerous battles rage. Her able plotting will encourage readers to overlook the occasional small error. The author also does a masterful job of exploring moral shades of gray in her characters, avoiding making any of them one-dimensional and encouraging readers to examine their own beliefs about right and wrong.

This novel can be appreciated as a standalone story, but readers will get more enjoyment from reading the whole quartet in order, as several subplots are continued from the first two installments and the suspenseful ending suggests more intrigue to come. Ideal for fans of wartime stories and sweeping family sagas, this taut tale delivers a heady mix of intrigue and history that will keep readers on the edges of their seats.

Takeaway: This wartime thrill ride turns the waning days of the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam into a pulse-pounding, smart tale of suspense.

Great for fans of Ellen Emerson White’s The Road Home, Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: -
Editing: C
Marketing copy: B