See the previous book in this series, ‘Tis the Season.
I often like to tell the story of how I ended up paying $25 for this book (which cost, I think, $3.95 list price). This was the late-ish 90s, before used book stores had a significant online presence; I’d found one of the series at a brick-and-mortar store in Omaha, Nebraska; I had a copy of Hill 568 that was literally falling apart—the library had given it to me instead of trashing it—but couldn’t find any others. After getting ‘Tis the Season from some mom & pop seller online for a good price, I was stymied in finding Stand Down; the only seller that had it was some douchebag out of New York that wanted $25 dollars for it.
I remember emailing him and asking how he justified such an outlandish price. His—refreshingly honest—reply? “Have to pay for the books that don’t move.” Well, dammit; I bought the book.
If ‘Tis the Season was the turning point in the series, then Stand Down is its rapid acceleration. The point of view reverts back to that of Michael “Meat” Jennings, post-Christmas. Demoralized and injured after their bloody Thanksgiving battle, and still in shock from finding an injured nurse in the middle of the jungle, Michael finds his mind wandering always to the thought of Rebecca; his attempt to write (ok—flirt) with her is met by an aloof but polite response which sends his poor 19-year-old heart into tailspins.
In some ways, this book is the least compelling of the series: the story reverts to that of its original character after such a swift and dramatic departure in the previous book. On the other hand, by the time Michael and his squad are put on “Stand Down” (or flown back to the relative safety and comfort of a major base) at Rebecca’s base, the interaction between the two characters—who are, at this point, somewhat estranged—makes for an interesting if maddening story. Since readers have spent the entirety of the previous book inside Rebecca’s ever-busy head, her behavior from the outside (that is, seen through Michael) is completely inscrutable.
If I had a complaint, it would be that much of the book is a return to the narrative/dramatic character of the first two—this, even after the series has been changed by the dynamic of the third. I liked this as a young boy sure (back to the shooting!), but upon re-reading it seems belabored, as if it’s a rote measure now in order to satisfy the original requirement of the series so Emerson could get it over with and reintroduce Rebecca into the mix. The last portion of the book, when the squad finally goes to Chu Lai (the base in question), is undoubtedly the most interesting part, even if it does switch from a war movie feel to that of, say, a romantic comedy. The result of two very damaged people interacting is fascinating, but perhaps that’s only my predilection.
For a long time, I thought this was the last book in the series (technically it is), and so its ending, though hopeful, was hardly a satisfying conclusion. That all changed when I discovered that Zack Emerson was simply a pseudonym for Ellen Emerson White1, and she wrote, after the fact, an out-of-series book that finished up the story of Rebecca Phillips, to whom the author had become so attached. That review, incidentally, is coming soon.
- Her other books don’t appear to be anywhere near this good, sadly.[↩]