Keeping Watch by Laurie R. King

So this is a companion book to Folly - there is character and setting overlap, but aside from that you can read it without having first read Folly. (Warning, though: one of the characters that overlaps is Rae, the main character from Folly, so there are spoilers there.)

Keeping Watch follows Allen Carmichael, a haunted Vietnam vet whose sole mission now is to atone for his wartime sins and then retire comfortably with his girlfriend to a life of quiet relaxation. His career is on the fringes of the law - he helps children and wives (and the odd husband) escape their abusers. Keeping Watch centers on the final case of his career.

There are many, many flashbacks to Vietnam - it is fully half the book. They help round out the character and often give vital...if not actual plot points, then they plant the seeds for what unfolds in present-day narration. The parallel plots set up two climactic events - one which serves to undo Carmichael in his early 20s, and one which might undo him all over again now in his mid 50s. Peripheral characters serve as harbors for the plot and relief from the chaos of the war and abuse stories.

There is a third line of narration - that of the young man who is Carmichael's final case. Full of its own violence and emotional turmoil, it is a nice anchor for Carmichael's own story. Being inside Jamie's head helps keep everything in perspective.

King winds this story in a way that is so intricate and compelling you just can't put it down. It is thrilling, violent, agonizing, and heart warming. I almost walked away - war stories are not my cup of tea - but I gave King the benefit of the doubt and I am very glad that I did.

*Spoilerish note: when I say that it is violent, I mean it. Vietnam was a bloody, heartless war and King doesn't hold back. There is also a subtle (and at the same time, not-subtle-at-all) commentary on the atrocious way the returning soldiers were treated. This book is not for the faint of heart. I'll just come right out and say it: there is violence against children. It is hinted at, danced around, and alluded to and then outright described. It is heartbreaking because it is real. This story is not real, but it echoes hundreds that are. You have to be prepared and then you have to read to the end, where you will have hope in humanity again. I promise.

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