by Lloyd Graff
Today’s Machining World Archives November/December 2010 Volume 06 Issue 09
Richard North Patterson is one of my favorite authors, though I often find his novels hard to finish. He doesn’t just write a story, though he is a wonderful story builder and teller. He lays out a problem—one that has no easy answers—and then illuminates it from several points of view.
He doesn’t make it easy for the reader. He challenges the reader with a variety of logical yet conflicting views. In the Name of Honor, his most recent book, plumbs the knotty issue of the court martial of a decorated soldier who kills his former commanding officer, the husband of his lifelong friend and now lover, after both the men have come back emotionally scarred from tours in Iraq.
The salient issue that Patterson elegantly dissects in In the Name of Honor is whether post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a persuasive defense in a murder case. Patterson depicts confessed killer Brian McCarron as the “straight arrow” son of military heroes, brought up in a world of expected military service. Brian had been wounded early in life by the suicide of his mother and the “respect-hate” relationship with his war hero father, General Andrew McCarron, who arranges for Paul Terry, a superb defense lawyer about to leave the military, to defend him.
Patterson never panders to his audience. He really makes the reader work to see dozens of nuances in the case. While the Prosecutor attempts to make it a black and white case of a love triangle turned murderous, defense lawyer Terry, abetted by defendant Brian’s amorous, protective and manipulative sister Meg, is determined to learn the truth about the case and mount the most effective defense possible. The defendant is often unhelpful in his own defense and is thought to be fragile and suicidal by his sister. He is surprisingly indifferent to the upcoming verdict. We see a combination of combat trauma, the influence of living with the military family’s “code of honor” and his love of Kate, the woman he grew up with as almost a sister.
Joe DiBruzu is Kate’s abusive husband who continually sent Brian into enormously dangerous missions in Baghdad that had no strategic benefit. The author plays with the reader’s sensibilities, painting DiBruzu as both a monster and a victim.
Defense lawyer, Terry, unlocks the mystery of the twisted McCarron family story while falling for Brian’s sad but manipulative sister, Meg. Terry employs the combat stress disorder defense very skillfully while the prosecutor, Flynn, pushes the case of lover’s jealousy. The McCarrons are a messy family, which while engrossing, confuses the issue of whether a soldier who is emotionally damaged by experiences at war is still ultimately liable for his violent behavior against another soldier who is also experiencing guilt about his war conduct.
People of my generation still battle the demons of the Vietnam War. The 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have left a terrible residue of PTSD along with the bullet and roadside bomb maiming. I have to believe almost every person who went to the front has some emotional damage.
In the Name of Honor gives insight into the pain that lingers long after the warrior comes home. It also gives one a feel for the hard lives of military families.