Expiation by Rudolph Pommer Saxon | Books in Review

In Rudolph Pommer Saxon’s novel Expiation (CreateSpace, 362 pp., $9.99, paper) the title is explained early on, well before the first chapter starts.  There is no biographical information on Saxon, nothing to indicate that he has been to Vietnam or even to Honolulu, where the novel begins. However, the biographical information on the book’s Amazon.com page says: “The author served with an infantry company and a recon platoon for six months in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam during his tour of duty in 1967-68.”

The novel begins on Saturday, May 1, 1971, and ends on Tuesday, June 15. The hero and main character, Mr. Butler, is asked by a woman named Jennifer Sato to investigate the murder of her brother, Jim Sato, who was living a reclusive life in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Jim Sato was a friend and comrade-in-arms of Mr. Butler in Vietnam.  Mr. Butler is not a lawman, nor is he a private investigator.

When he arrives in the fictional Verus City in Medicine Trail County, Washington, Mr. Butler introduces himself to Sheriff Hackett as “acting on behalf of Jim’s family and for myself.”  He tells the sheriff that he and Jim served in Vietnam in “Second Battalion, Twenty-second Infantry, Twenty-fifth Infantry Division, ” from “July of sixty-seven to July of sixty-eight.”

Mr. Butler is soon informed that Jim Sato was killed by twelve rounds from an AK-47. He died slowly, but he lived long enough to scratch the letters “VC” in the dirt under his body. It looked to this reader as though the Vietnam War had followed Jim Sato home.

When Mr. Butler makes the two-day trek to his friend’s primitive cabin, he spends three days systematically searching the area for clues. It is obvious to this reader that there is more to Mr. Butler than we have been told. He knows what he is doing and finds much more evidence than Sheriff Hackett and his men had found, which led me to wonder if Sheriff Hackett might be involved in the heroin trafficking that Mr. Butler found evidence of.

I recollected that early in the book Jennifer Sato had said to Mr. Butler in her pleas for his help in discovering why her brother had died that Mr. Butler had “done some sort of investigating on some assignments in the Army.”  That is a modest clue that Mr. Butler is a formidable investigator with a wide range of training and talents.

Saxon has written an engrossing mystery with much of the story connected to the Vietnam War, and I enjoyed reading it. It is a handsome, well-edited book with well-maintained romance and adventure and intrigue. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy Vietnam War-related mysteries.

—David Willson

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