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Secret Sanction    by Brian Haig order for
Secret Sanction
by Brian Haig
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Secret Sanction reminded me of both the movie A Few Good Men and an excellent mystery by Richard Powell, A Shot in the Dark (unfortunately long out of print). Like Tom Cruise in the movie, this book's hero, Sean Drummond, is an irreverent army (JAG Corps) lawyer. The novel shares with Richard Powell's thriller a self-deprecating first person narrative style that is highly entertaining.

Drummond is handed the unenviable task of investigating a supposed massacre of thirty-five Serbs in Bosnia by Green Berets, assigned there to train Kosovar Albanians and build up the Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA). After the Kosovar unit was wiped out, the Special Forces team ambushed a Serb column. When Drummond visits the morgue in Belgrade, he is disturbed to discover that each man in that column was shot in the head.

The American team, now in detention in Italy, have a good (if too well orchestrated story) and the pressure is on for Drummond and his assistants to accept it. His group includes two handpicked attorneys, James Delbert and Lisa Morrow, and the remarkable Specialist Seven Imelda Pepperfield 'who was short and squat, had tough squinty eyes that peered out from a pair of gold wire-rimmed glasses, and who made it clear from the opening shot exactly who was in charge of this legal compound.' Drummond is instantly attracted to Morrow with 'the most sympathetic eyes I ever saw'.

The team's investigation is run out of Tuzla Air Base and the plot thickens when an irritating investigative reporter is murdered there. The plot unpeels like an onion, revealing cover-ups within cover-ups, a mole in Drummond's group, and manipulation of the investigation from rarefied heights. Our hero finally has to adjust his black and white legal view to accomodate the many shades of gray intrinsic in the complex environment of peacekeepers observing on the fringes of atrocities.

The plot and the setting alone would make Secret Sanction a good thriller. What catapults it to the top of the genre pile is its authoritative insight into army life and humor ... 'Sympathy, the Army likes to say, is found in the dictionary between "shit" and "syphilis," and regarded accordingly.' The author is a most credible witness to this life having lived it himself and served as special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I found many of his character's comments on growing up in a military household intriguing, given that the author is also the son of former Secretary of State Alexander Haig.

Sean Drummond completes his investigation and resolves the quandary of its recommendations in his inimitable fashion 'When I meet my maker someday, I'm fairly confident I'll be able to square all this up. I mean I'm a lawyer ... I've defended weaker cases and prevailed.' The story seems set for a sequel, which is just as well - Sean and Imelda are much too entertaining for only one novel.

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