Verdict: The achievement of Eric Haggman is that when he does note the setting of this fast-paced adventure novel, it meets the demands of true noir: the country is as much a character as any of the villains.
In the film Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola and screenwriter John Milieus gave a panoramic view of the Vietnam War via a boat trip upriver for a rendezvous with a killing zone overseen by a crazed Special Forces colonel. Along the way, they see American military officers in plush, air conditioned surroundings; a USO show featuring dancing playboy bunnies turned to chaos when soldiers in the audience rush the stage and hang off the escaping helicopter the way the South Vietnamese will during the last American flight out of Saigon; a leaderless platoon shooting at the enemy in pitch-black darkness.
The same type of panoramic view is provided by Eric Haggman in this haunting noir mystery. His main character, Christian Lindstrom, a shell-shocked American veteran of the Vietnam War now a film-maker who shoots commercials, the most nakedly capitalistic of film genres, returns to a Vietnam where things went wrong for him. The reader could view the character’s métier as bringing capitalism into one of the most hard-line of communist countries. But, as he and the readers discover, Vietnam has become a smaller version of China, with a rapacious capitalist economy alongside secret police and “re-education” prisons.
The country now has five plush hotels, whose suites are adorned with pictures of Ho Chi Minh. As with New York, in many ways, the financial capitol of the world, Saigon bustles with traffic, not of the rickshaw variety, but with limos and motorcycles. Like post-communist Russia, the Vietnamese version of the Mafia lurks about, controlling the drug trade, and in many ways, Saigon and Hanoi. But alongside these capitalist adornments, is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, deliberately modeled on the Lenin one in Moscow, with the Vietcong leader embalmed in an air tight glass coffin; where citizens in three-piece suits file past it.
Despite this nod to communist architecture, Lindstrom’s production assistant, Hai, seeks to rehabilitate the Vietcong leader from hard-line Stalinist to democratically inclined patriot:The Institute live streaming film online
“Born and raised in Vietnam, he knew more about the history of the country than anyone I’d ever met. He told us that Ho Chi Minh was really more of a nationalist than a communist and that Ho had tried to get President Eisenhower to help, but “Ike” and the United States lined up with the French—making communism our last resort. Hai explained, “He wanted freedom and many political parties. But when he left power in 1969, the communists totally hijacked his image for their own use and propaganda.”
Although Haggman reminds readers of the Western colonial presence that once controlled Vietnam, (Vietnamese waiters speak in French accents), he doesn’t reserve his twists merely for the obligatory car chases and brutal beatings; he surprises by making The Apology not about America apologizing to Vietnam for the war they waged there, but about the guilt felt by modern-day Japanese for what Hirohito’s government did to the Chinese in Vietnam during the late 30s and World War II period.
Today, World War II is chiefly remembered for Nazi atrocities. But it is useful to remember that Imperial Japan had its own share; beheading and raping Chinese citizens, packing Chinese and American POWS in inhumanely small crates; and revolutionizing torture techniques. The achievement of Haggman is that when he does note the setting of this fast-paced adventure novel, it meets the demands of true noir: the country is as much a character as any of the villains.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader