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Mortal Allies    by Brian Haig order for
Mortal Allies
by Brian Haig
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Brian Haig introduced us to irreverent army lawyer Sean Drummond in Secret Sanction, forcing him to come to terms with the shades of gray dealt with by peacekeepers on the fringes of atrocity in Bosnia. Drummond is an entertaining, self-deprecating hero, indomitable in the search for 'truth, justice, the American way', but also an individual capable of learning and personal growth. The author brings Sean Drummond back to the world stage (South Korea this time) in Mortal Allies, presenting him with another challenge to his own biases.

This book revolves around the issues of gays in the military, and in particular the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy. Our hero is hauled out of a well-deserved Bermuda vacation and flown to riot-torn Seoul, where his new role comes as a nasty shock. Not only is his client accused of rape, murder and necrophilia, but the victim is a Korean soldier in the American army, the only son of the country's defense minister. And it turns out that Sean has a history with his co-counsel. At law school they were 'wildly, inconsolably, antagonistically different'; not only did sparks fly when they were together, but they 'made trees explode into flames.'

Katherine Carlson has always called Drummond 'Attila' and his nickname for her is 'Moonbeam', which pretty well sums up their past relationship. Recently she has acted as 'the legal attack dog of America's gay culture against the Armed Forces.' The Organization of Gay Military Members hired her to take on the defense of the accused Captain Thomas Whitehall. She has assembled a team of lawyers who are openly gay. Sean assumes that Katherine is also, and that she has involved him in this distasteful case in revenge for past slights. However, he tries to even the odds against their client, by balancing a hanging judge and slick prosecution lawyer with his 'perfect legal aide', fiery Sergeant First Class Imelda Pepperfield.

Hope that Imelda will deliver retribution to his old antagonist quickly fades, as the 'grumpiest, gnarliest person God ever put on this green earth' beams at her new associates. This is not the only shock that the author delivers; surprises ambush his protagonist and readers on a regular basis throughout this twisty, layered plot. Sean's initial disgust for his client and discomfort with his associates, grows into a reluctant belief in the innocence of the former, and guilt-ridden respect for the latter. Along the way he deals with his own prejudice, with strong nudges from Imelda.

It's a combination of legal thriller and spy story with pressure from all sides, media distortion, CIA and North Korean involvement, and rampant corruption. The tension between Attila and Moonbeam is tremendous fun which, along with Machiavellian plots, treachery and murder, keeps the plot moving riotously fast. Don't begin Mortal Allies unless you have a clear stretch of reading time ahead; it's a tough one to put down, even more so than Secret Sanction.

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