Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: White Star by James Thayer (audio book read by David Purdham)

For more of Friday's Forgotten Books, visit Pattinase.

During Vietnam, Owen Gray was a sniper with the greatest reputation, having eliminated 97 enemy targets, after which he retired. At each site, he would fold a white star out of paper and leave it behind as an identifier. This led to his nickname, White Star. Gray's list of kills was supposed to have included his main rival, Russian Nikolai Trusov.

But Trusov wasn't killed, only deeply humiliated, and he yearns for a rematch of sorts in a one-on-one sniper fight to the death. Interestingly, author James Thayer has written Trusov as a villain with a strong moral compass, however misguided: he refuses to meet Gray in anything but a fair fight. If an advantage appears on Trusov's side, he eliminates it. Likewise, if one of Gray's friends tries to give Gray an advantage, Trusov kills them.

White Star culminates in the grudge-match duel that is the main reason for reading the book. Preceding it, though, are enough details about the sniper life, in addition to the suspense of whether it's going to happen and then how it's going to play out, to keep things interesting until then. The showdown is truly fascinating, as we get to see a pair of evenly matched supermen as they repeatedly attempt to outwit each other, and succeed a little more each time.

What Thayer puts his characters through is jaw-dropping. A highlight is certainly the scene where Trusov tries to flush Gray out of his hiding place in a field of tall grass by setting fire to the area. Gray knows that any motion on his part equals his death, and so he has no choice but to let the fire overtake him. Thayer does not flinch in his description of the damage to Gray's skin or the resulting pain, and the reader feels roasted right along with him.

Reader David Purdham's intensely serious reading style fits right along with Thayer's text in the audiobook (only available abridged, as far as I know). It's a perfect listen for the work commute or any other road trip, chore, or event that needs to go by quickly. White Star isn't a classic by any means, but it's certainly a forgotten book that needs remembering — if only for as long as it takes to experience it.


David Cranmer said...

When I was an MP books like this were all the rage with my Army buddies... Since I do an insane amount of traveling I'll remember the audio version. Thanks.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Craig. This was a new title and author for me.

Craig Clarke said...

David, what's funny is that I don't usually enjoy military-themed books, but this had me gripped from the beginning.

Patti, it was a new title and author for me, too. I found it on the free table at work and snatched it up because I have a long commute and depend on audio books to make the time go by.

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