Jungle Rules: A True Story of Marine Justice in Vietnam
by Charles W. Henderson. Berkley Publishing Group, New York, 2006, hardcover $24.95.
This is not a “True Story of Marine Justice in Vietnam.” Contrary to the book’s foreword, the events described are not “taken from actual transcripts of trials and investigations.” I know this, having written the Marine Corps’official history of military law in Vietnam. Henderson’s story is true in the sense that, yes, there was a war in Vietnam and, yes, there were Marine lawyers there. But the characters in Jungle Rules are fictitious. Henderson owns up to that, sort of, in his foreword. Some events he describes are indeed based on actual Vietnam events, although they’re thoroughly fictionalized, here.
Although I started the book with a negative bias engendered by the bogus subtitle, Henderson’s storytelling skills and writing soon brought me around. This is a gripping and exciting novel that describes the war in Vietnam from the unique viewpoint of Marine lawyers, “JAGs,” in the combat zone. It’s fast-paced and engrossing, never burdened with legal metaphysics or jargon. Henderson is well served by the two Marine judge advocates to whom he dedicates the book; the minimal courtroom action is accurate and well paced. It’s an engaging story involving combat, criminality, and descriptions of life in the Vietnam combat zone that every veteran will recognize. The language is unacceptably crude and graphic, just as it actually was. Every smart-ass remark and quip ever uttered by Marines in Vietnam is crammed into the dialogue. If you were there, you’ll find yourself nodding and thinking, “Yeah, I said that, too!” The action is nonstop. Henderson manages his multiple plot lines nicely and, with an eye to a screenplay, even manages to get a sexy woman involved.
Henderson has written a fine book that will hold you until the last page. Any Vietnam vet and any Marine, particularly, will appreciate this text. Well done.
Originally published in the December 2007 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.