Twenty years after he survived Vietnam, Daniel Mulvaney’s memoir about it is a best seller. But success brings unforeseen attention. An invitation from a mysterious Vietnamese, to return to the land that nearly took his life, takes Danny back to when an idealistic kid was unjustly expelled from college and drafted into the US Army. The old nightmares resume. He can’t work. His marriage is in trouble.
As a young man in Brooklyn in 1968, Danny was unsure if his mom’s credo—everything happens for good reason—was wisdom or corny idiom, but he was determined to be a man worthy of Amanda, the girl he loved. Gino Sebastionelli, his closest friend, wanted to bolt for Canada together, but Danny wouldn’t be swayed. His idealism blinded him to the horrors ahead. He’d be wounded, decorated, betrayed, face court martial, and then be saved by Tom Tyler, an officer from Danny’s college town, where all his troubles began. When Danny’s platoon was nearly wiped out, Tyler was captured, and Danny would have to lead a green platoon, against orders, into the U-Minh—The Forest of Darkness—in order to have any chance of saving his lieutenant…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In For Good Reason by James D. Robertson, Danny Mulvaney is a best-selling author with his memoir about the Vietnam War, but he still struggles with the horrors he experienced there, even twenty years after coming home. When he gets a mysterious letter from someone in Vietnam, inviting him back after all this time, Danny is torn. Should he go, or shouldn’t he? As Danny wrestles with his decision, he takes us back to 1968 when he was drafted into the army as an idealistic young man determined to save the world, only to find that the reality of war is a far cry from his fantasies, and he will be lucky to get home alive, let alone in one piece.
Robertson’s character development is superb, and you can’t help but root for Danny and his friends as their lives are torn apart by a war they don’t understand and have no choice but to fight—a compelling, intense, and poignant story that you won’t want to put down.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: For Good Reason by James D. Robertson is the story of a young man who went to war at a time when the world was in chaos. In 1968, Danny Mulvaney was unjustly expelled from college and drafted into the army, sent to fight a war in a far-off place called Vietnam. Mulvaney details his experiences for the reader, including his confusion about fighting the war in the first place, the horrors of combat, friends dying, horrific carnage, betrayal by a supposed friend, and many other experiences—some of which only a fellow soldier can fully understand. Even after being home for some twenty years with a best-selling book under his belt, Mulvaney still suffers from PTSD, nightmares, and self-doubt. Just when he thinks he has finally beaten his demons and his life is on the right track, he gets a mysterious letter from Vietnam, and it all comes rushing back. Now his marriage is in trouble, he’s having nightmares again, and he can’t concentrate on work. Is this mysterious letter a way for him to finally find closure—or is it a trap?
While there’s no question that Robertson is both a skilled and talented writer, For Good Reason goes well beyond that. With characters and events that both warm your heart and rip it out; dramatic, intense, and vivid scenes that put you right in the middle of the action; and a plot that keeps you guessing all the way through, this compelling and poignant tale will stay with you long after you close the book on the last page. I heartily recommend it.
1988, Cold Spring Harbor, New York:
The dream was back. It surprised Danny when it began. The experience was different now after all the years–no twisting in his guts, no ache in his heart. It felt like coming home. He was back in Nam, sitting in a bunker, alone, waiting. The sandbags were torn and drooping. Red dust dribbled from gaping rips in the fabric like dried blood. The beams were rotten and termite-infested. The whole structure was well on its way to oblivion. He found comfort in that.
Light began to brighten the timber-framed doorway. Wisps of ground mist crept in, swirling across the floor. He loved the dawn. Dawn meant he had survived another terror-filled night. Dawn promised a chance to survive another day.
In the dream he examined himself, knowing what he would find, but pleased to find it. Jungle fatigues and combat gear, everything as it had been, everything but the pain. He had missed this dream. As real as it seemed, he knew it was a dream, but that was okay. The dream was all that was left.
He waited, comfortable with the dream, expectant yet calm, content, savoring the anticipation.
One by one, his buddies shuffled in. With sparkling eyes on the brink of laughter, each one acknowledged him with a grin and a nod.
“Hey, Mulvaney,” someone said, “you back for another tour?”
Unable to speak, he nodded. His brothers were with him again. Even the dead were healthy, young, and happy in this dream–the way he would always remember them. He stood. They pounded one another on the back, shook hands, embraced, and called each other vulgar names.
God, it felt good to be together again.
“What’s the op?” someone said.
They all looked to him. He said what he always said in the dream. “Saddle up. We’re moving out.”
He woke up just as he always did at that point. Try as he might he could never alter that. Still clinging to the memory of his friends, wishing he could be with them even if it meant risking his life, he gave in to reality and opened his eyes.
His wife lay beside him, her breathing rhythmic and deep. He stifled a sob and eased himself from beneath the comforter. With his toes, he felt for his slippers. The bristly nap of deep pile carpet against his bare feet felt strange. The newness of his surroundings was getting on his nerves. He rose, holding his breath, but the mattress was so new the springs failed to squeak. He wagged his head in the darkness, stooped to snatch a terry-cloth robe from a chair in front of the window, and stole a peek at his front yard. Three dandelion stalks, seed puffs aglow in the spill from a streetlamp, mocked him from their beds where they swayed, smack in the middle of his freshly laid sod.
He chuckled softly, whispered, “Shit. ‘Best lawn money can buy,’ my ass,” shrugged, and tiptoed into the hall.
He checked at his kids’ rooms as he passed. Nary a whimper from behind those doors. He alone was haunted.
Thrusting his arms into the robe’s sleeves and tying its sash as he went, Danny headed for the stairs.
Downstairs, he congratulated himself when he had, for once, successfully negotiated the living room in the dark without bashing his toe. He felt his way into the kitchen, eased open the refrigerator, and blinked in the glare as he slipped a Sam Adams from a six-pack stashed in the back. He popped the top with a bottle opener from a counter drawer and climbed onto a stool beside the center island. Sipping the tangy brew, he fished in his pocket for his cigarettes, shook loose a Marlboro and clamped his lips on the filter.
Dropping the pack on the counter, he scooped his old, worn Zippo from his pocket and spun the wheel. The lighter caught on the first attempt. He drew smoke deep into his lungs. Holding the Zippo in front of his eyes, he whispered the engraved inscription lit by the flickering flame.
“When I die I’ll go to Heaven ’cause I’ve spent my time in Hell.” Nodding, he said, “Amen, brother.” The clink of the cover snapping shut sounded like a shot.
With the aroma of last night’s roast chicken tickling his nostrils–one homey touch in his strange new house–he drank, smoked, and thought. The letter was on his desk in his library. He could almost see it through the walls.
His wife wanted him to tear it up. As if the thought of her were a summons, he heard her on the stairs. Now I’m in for it. Here comes the Wicked Witch of the West.
“Dan?” she called. “What are you doing up? Are you smoking?”
The woman could smell cigarette smoke in a hurricane. Here she comes–Judgment Day in pink flannel and fuzzy slippers–Beauty and the Beast all in one package. I don’t need this shit now. Why can’t she leave me alone?
The overhead lights snapped on. The sudden brilliance hit his pupils like a fist.
“Yeah, I’m drinking, too.” He squinted, temporarily blind. “So?”
“Don’t get snotty, Daniel. It’s three o’clock in the morning. The kids have school tomorrow.”
“If the kids wake up,” he said, “it’ll be because of you. I was as quiet as a mouse.”
“And as sneaky.”
“Don’t start with me.”
“Okay.” She threw her hands up, her sign of truce. “Let’s start over. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing? You’re slinking around the house in the middle of the night, sneaking cigarettes, and drinking beer, and you expect me to believe nothing’s wrong?” With her arms folded, she leaned a hip against the counter. “It’s the letter, isn’t it?”
“No, I–” He clenched his fist, tapped it three times on the counter, and said, “Yes, it’s the letter. I’m upset, okay? I admit it. Let’s not get into it now, though. Just go back to bed. I’ll be fine. Just needed a few minutes to think, okay? I’m fine.”
“Honey,” she said, “talk to me. I want to help. Please, talk to me.”
“We’ll talk tomorrow, babe. Right now I need a little solitude. There are some things I have to sort out in my head–things you wouldn’t understand.”
“I want to understand, Dan. Don’t shut me out.”
He clenched his fist again, tapped twice, and said, “I’m not shutting you out. I just have to get some stuff straight in my own head before I can share it with you. Go back to bed. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Scout’s honor. Now scoot.” When she hesitated, he added, “I love you.”
She put her arms around him, and he felt the warmth of her body against his back, the press of her breasts through the fabric. He smelled the sleepy, woman smell of her and he was almost aroused, but it had been too long. He hadn’t laid intimate hands on her in months.
He kissed her hair–a brush of the lips–and slowly turned to break contact.
“Dan, are you sure you want me to go?”
“Maybe not. Why don’t you get a beer from the fridge for yourself and another one for me? Dim the lights. Let’s just sit and talk like we did when we were engaged. Make believe we’re in one of those cozy little pubs we used to go to late at night, dreaming of what our life together will be like. Remember?”
She pulled back. Anger flushed her cheeks. “That’s all you want to do lately–relive the good old days.” She started to pace, the way she did when she was cross. “Wake up!” she said. “I’ve got a news flash for you. We’re not kids anymore.”
He gritted his teeth and examined the floor, but she ducked into his gaze. With furrowed brow, she said, “Hello-o. Earth to Dan. Do you read me?” Snapping erect, she resumed her quick-march pacing and added finger-wagging. Pent-up energy propelled her back and forth like a ping-pong ball, firing accusations with every turn of her heel. “The past is the past. You can’t go back. Since you started that damned book, you’ve been living in the ’sixties. ‘Dreaming of our life together?’ We no longer have a life together. I’m here. Now. You’re in a time warp. Snap out of it!” She spun on him and stood flat-footed, fists balled, battle ready.
“That ‘damned book,’” he fired back, “is what bought you this house you always wanted. And everything in it. And the cars in the garage. And all the other shit you just had to have.”
“Bought?” she said. “Hardly! It made the down payments. We’re up to our asses in debt. You haven’t made a dime in months. The advance is almost gone, and the royalties won’t last forever. You’ve got to wake up, Dan. Come back to the world of the living.” She ticked off his eccentricities on her fingers. “First, it was staying up half the night, every night, writing the first draft. Then we had to put up with the rewriting. And the research!” She gave up on counting and threw it all in the air. “My God! The phone bill alone. But, you know what, Dan? I’d be happy to go through it all again if you’d just get back to work. Writers do have to write, don’t they? It’s not like farming, is it? The government won’t pay you for not writing, will it?”
“Keep your voice down. You’ll wake the kids.”
“So? Are you afraid they’ll see that their father is losing his mind?”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means that since we moved in here, you’ve been acting stranger by the minute. First, there were the parties with all those weirdos from that veterans’ club you joined.”
“Those are my brother vets. How dare you insult them?”
“You never laid eyes on any of them until your book was published. They used you for free beer and a place to drink it. You said yourself: some of their stories don’t ring true.”
“My old buddies are scattered all over the country. I can’t help that.” It sounded lame, even to him. He looked for an ashtray, but he knew there would not be one, so he dropped his cigarette butt into the empty beer bottle. Some ashes scattered on the counter.
She grabbed the washcloth from the sink and swiped at his mess. “So, what are these people? Substitutes?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “Oh, and let’s not forget paintball.” Her eyes grew wide. She threw her head back and berated the ceiling. He hated when she did that. “All of a sudden, my husband decides to be a middle-aged commando, running around in the woods, shooting perfect strangers with paint pellets.” The ceiling must have had enough because she aimed those piercing brown orbs at him again. “Now you get a letter from some unknown Vietnamese, and you want to go traipsing off to the other side of the world to meet him.” She clapped her hands together and locked her fingers so the knuckles went white. “Does any of this sound rational to you?”
“Come on, babe. I know how it must look, but–”
“But what, Danny? You’re a writer, for God’s sake. Why can’t you find the words?”
He didn’t know he was going to cry. He was as shocked by his tears as she. He couldn’t help but cry, and he couldn’t stop.
Her arms were around him again, and her sobs blended with his. “You need help, Dan. It’s post-traumatic stress or something. Maybe the VA can help. They know more about this kind of thing now. Will you go see someone? Please? For me? For the kids?”
She rocked him until he nodded his submission. She stroked his hair and kissed the tears streaming down his cheek.
“Come to bed,” she said. “We’ll talk about it in the morning.”
He couldn’t meet her eyes. “Give me a minute to collect myself,” he said and turned his back on her. “I’ll be right up.”
“Okay.” She pulled back, letting her fingers trail along his arms. “But not too long. You need your rest.”
“Okay,” he said and wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “Go on. I’ll be right up.”
He waited until he heard the bedroom door close, counted to three, and went to the refrigerator. He snatched another beer from the carton, thought better of it, and took them all. Moving quickly, he slipped out the side door to the attached garage, closed it behind him with care, and caught himself just before he switched on the lights. He was safer in the dark. She wouldn’t think to look for him here if he stayed quiet. Her Audi was right in front of him. He felt the cool, slick steel with the back of his hand, slid his backside onto the fender, set the beer down on the hood, lit another cigarette, and eased the lighter shut.
Alone in the dark, he puffed, sipped, and thought.
She’s right. I do need to see someone–someone in Vietnam.
© 2018 by James D. Robertson
Reed Farrel Coleman:
“Wars are waged by nations, but fought by individuals. Robertson’s For Good Reason is a fascinating study in the price soldiers continue to pay long after coming home and how, for some, the war is never over.” ~ Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times Bestselling Author of What You Break
“James D. Robertson’s For Good Reason is a page-turner full of emotion and tension that will grab the reader by the throat and entertain from the first page to the end. You will care about his characters, their feelings, and their relationships. This guy can write.” ~ Joseph Badal, Amazon #1 Best-Selling Author of Obsessed
“Some of the best war novels are written long after the war has passed into history, and James Robertson’s For Good Reason takes its place among those classics. Robertson, a Vietnam veteran, writes with the authenticity of a man who was there, and the maturity of a man who has come to grips with his combat experiences. The battle scenes are among the best I’ve ever read: tense, heart-pounding, too realistic, and emotionally draining. This book will bring back memories of a time that changed all of us who lived through it.” ~ Nelson DeMille, USA Today Best-Selling Author of The Cuban Affair
“From the very first page, James Robertson’s For Good Reason brings you into an authentic, gripping portrayal of war and the devastation it wrecks.” ~ Annamaria Alfierie, acclaimed historical mystery novelist