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LaMar Going
LaMar Going, author
The Juicy Fruit Man is the story of Declan Noakes, a Vietnam veteran who chooses a life of itinerancy while he struggles to cope with the inner demons who seek his demise. Rejecting the chains and tethers others accept as the cost of living, Declan has no permanent address, no traditional employment, no car and no significant other. What he does have is almost a ton and a half of Thai Sticks, potent marijuana from Thailand, known on the streets of America as Juicy Fruit. Declan travels the routes of Amtrak at whim, selling his wares on a small scale. He found that smoking weed pacifies the monsters, and he’d established a loose network of friends across the nation, but what he hadn’t found is a way to kill the demons. He’d smuggled the weed with the help of his cousin, Rachel, and another Army Ranger, Ben Fisher. What he sought on the tracks is peace, but life had other plans for him. After the war, Declan’s confronted with Fisher’s betrayal when he schemes to steal the marijuana. To further complicate matters, a pair of Amtrak detectives get wind of his cache, which is worth in excess of one million dollars. They team with a sometimes-crooked Chicago PD homicide detective and battle against Declan and Fisher, for the stash. The Juicy Fruit Man is the story of a good man who made poor choices, the price he paid, and his pain as he watches his cousin sacrifice her innocence to save them both. Declan is you; he is me; he is every man, a flawed hero who finds that he must first conquer himself before he can slay his demons.
Going’s thriller about stoner and Vietnam veteran Declan Noakes plunges readers into a world of action and betrayal. Declan returned home from the war with a head full of trauma. In between flashbacks, he rides trains and sells large quantities of Juicy Fruit, a potent Thai marijuana he smuggled during his second tour. All is going well until Ben Fisher, a war buddy turned drug dealer, tries to take a cut of the Juicy Fruit action and force Declan into selling cocaine for him. When Declan refuses, an epic standoff begins between Ben and his crew, dirty cops, and Declan and his deceptively tough cousin Rachel.

Going writes in a slang-filled and hardboiled style, and his protagonist mixes old-school stoner references with action-movie machismo. His prose is full of original and startling descriptions: “Morning skies were angry-red and gray, and full of vinegar.” “The old house was fond of its own voice.” However, the narrative voice sometimes misses the mark with off-putting racial and sexual humor, such as the offhand observation that Declan “had been babe-candy since junior high.”

Fast pacing and fight sequences are where Going excels. The last third of the book is one long standoff that will keep readers hooked and anxious for the final explosion of gunfire. “Courage is a lie, a children’s tale,” the narrator asserts, yet Declan and Rachel show otherwise as they fiercely fight for their lives. Despite the book’s dark outlook on corruption and disloyalty in the military and law enforcement, Declan maintains his honor. Though a flawed hero, he realizes the distinction between himself and Ben: “I’m not evil, and I never will be.” Going’s thrilling tale of this morally gray Vietnam vet is perfect for those who enjoy gunfights and confrontation but aren’t afraid to laugh a little.

Takeaway: This action-filled novel will thrill readers who are looking for gunfights, cynicism about the military’s dark side, and edgy humor.

Great for fans of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, Philip M. Derrick’s Facing the Dragon.

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

What is harder? To fight against your enemy in a war? Or to fight against the inner demons that you bring back with you?

Declan Noakes, a Vietnam veteran, craves for the life of a wanderer who’s trying to lose society’s “chains and tethers.” After smuggling Thai marijuana sticks, a.k.a Juicy Fruit, worth $1 million, Declan aims for a life of simplicity where he can enjoy his freedom as much as possible. But… there’s always a price to pay. Will he be willing to bear the costs?

Meanwhile, Officers Miguel Magana and Ike White begin tracking Declan’s movements. Where will that lead them? And when a fellow Army Ranger reappears from death’s doorstep, suspicions start rising. Why now? Moreover, Declan’s cousin and his trusted friend, Rachel, seems to be caught in the crossfire of the illegal mess. Will Declan find a solution to keep his beloved cousin safe, who happens to also be a widow, a concerning mother, and a minor helper in Declan’s trafficking? Perhaps, he will leave himself to the mercy of his inner demons and switch to his soldier’s stone-hearted defense when faced with danger again.

The Juicy Fruit Man deserved the perfect score of four out of four stars. The minor editorial issues did not prevent me from experiencing the tense moments and emotional sensations of the book.

LeMar Going, a San Diego native and an enthusiast of Chinese culture, successfully creates the story of an ordinary man who seeks a possible solution to end his combat nightmares. A life of nomadism seems plausible when the tough reality of wartime and its ever-present effects hit you. The harsh images from the war field displayed in front of my eyes, so it might be disturbing for some readers, especially if you served in the Army since these scenes might act as a trigger. Of note, some scenes hint at racial discrimination, but only to bring out the character’s feelings. Occasionally, colorful language is adopted parallel to the military vernacular.

This is the story of a simple man who struggles against the torment of bringing the war home. There is action, suspense, and realism. I completely forgot that I was reading a fictionalized story, and I continued reading with the impression that an old man is narrating about the scars of the battlefield along with gratitude for the simple, quiet life. Sometimes, Declan and Rachel surprised me with their familiar, amusing reactions to life events. As the story unfolds, we also get a glimpse of the wonderful American landscape from a cross-country Amtrak route. Another plus that kept me engaged and interested was the author’s original writing style. His tone has both a brute hardness and a smooth flow of warmth in word usage. I will mostly recommend The Juicy Fruit Man, by LeMar Going, to fans of the thriller genre.