By Jack Engelhard
Here's another winner from John W. Cassell - his novel "Uncertain Paradise, Part 2," but don't tell the Big Boys and Girls who run our culture because it might ruin their party. They've got their favorites, their babies, their teacher's pets, and Cassell is not one of them. He's just too good. If they ever unchained him, they'd have to apologize for all those years they've neglected him.
Meanwhile, Cassell continues to turn out novels that belong with the greats and here I'm thinking James Jones and Herman Wouk, the writers we turn to for works that entertain and educate, certainly in terms of war and peace - and I'm even tempted to place Cassell in the category of Leo Tolstoy.
Don't believe me? Buy this book and you'll know what I'm talking about. Buy ANY of Cassell's books to find out what real writing looks like.
This one had me trapped from page one. There's so much going on in this novel, but it's narrated so clearly that despite all the fireworks, you're in there at all times with the main character, who happens to be Cassell. This writer fearlessly uses himself since every man, as we know, is a universe. This means we get to share Cassell's strengths and weaknesses, his fears and gallantry - all in time of war.
Does anyone do war better than Cassell? I don't think so. What captivated me was that right from the start we got to see, hear and feel the workings within the mind of a commander, a man who must serve his troops; a man who must win against all odds. I've been at war, but never been inside the mind of a man who must make those split-second decisions, as is the case in this marvelous rendering.
As with all of Cassell's books - and this is magical - we never know what's coming next. We never know what's right around the corner.
But something's there, and something's going to happen. Will the hero be ready? That's how Cassell draws the reader flipping page to page.
Cassell knows his men, but he also knows his women. Oh yes he does - the good, the bad, and even the ugly! Sure he knows war, but he also knows peace, though the peace he writes about, here especially, is not always so peaceful. You can't fool a man who's been in combat, overseas and at home (as a State Trooper). Cassell knows his business. Reading him, you know he's done practically everything he writes. You know you're in sure hands. He knows his stuff!
This - far as I can tell - is something of a departure for this writer who merits our attention. Yes, attention must be paid. Most of his previous novels are about the late 1960s and early 1970s - all first-rate! -- so readers may have expected him to be cornered. In this novel, he's tackled a new time and place where he's taken on a new rhythm in the writing. It's fast, fast-paced, quick cuts, back and forth, unpredictable, just like war itself.
In case I've made an argument for male readers only, then it's my mistake. This is a novel for both men and women. Cassell knows LOVE.
The shame of it all? This will not become a bestseller. Cassell is just too good. Too damned good.
Those maharajas who run our culture won't let it happen. Unless we insist!
Novelist Jack Engelhard, author of "The Bathsheba Deadline" and "Indecent Proposal" can be reached at his website www.jackengelhard.com