Lynn Bentley

The Ugly American

Summary: A novel set in mid-1950’s French-occupied Vietnam, parallels the complicated lives of a two American agents. Ironically, in the mid-60’s, the Naval Officer son of one of the agents ends up serving in the war. The story displays the impact across two generations of the entanglement during the early years of war in Vietnam.

Barkley Landsdown, received a visit at home one night from the French police inspector, who informs him his fellow agent, Tom Dewey had been killed. The inspector tells him that he must report to the police station the next morning to answer questions and identify the body. The inspector had reason to suspect that Landsdown isn’t being totally truthful. This beginning sets off a twisted series of events that are filled with intrigue and sad betrayal.

Lynn Bentley tells a story of the strange conflicted relationship of these two men who love one woman, and the equally entangled and conflicted relationships of all those who get involved in Vietnam. Landsdown wants to believe that he is a CIA analyst, who is not directly involved in the conflict. He has a wife at home from whom he is separated but who will not divorce him. His mistress meets his needs and offers emotional support. In the end, she benefits materially from his attention but he can offer nothing more than the hope of a divorce. Dewey, who loves her at first sight, is unattached, candidly shares his intentions, and yet strangely connects with Landsdown as a good friend. Landsdown’s life is saved by an American agent and a French patrol, at one point in the story, when he becomes stranded in enemy territory. While he is detained, Dewey steals his mistress.

Landsdown gradually learns that Dewey isn’t all that he seems. He discovers that that Dewey is doing something with bicycles, that turn out to be rigged with explosives and being used as bombs to undermine the regime in Saigon. Readers learn that Dewey is an undercover CIA agent that is leading a black ops program. Landsdown is curious, but remains detached until the bombing of a square, intended to break up a parade that was cancelled, kills and maims scores of innocents. This act has the fingerprints of Dewey all over it. He faces hard choices of what to do with his knowledge of this “Ugly American.”

Landsdown has tried to avoid entangling involvements. He tells this story to his son which describes the folly of such an attempt, in both love, and in the Vietnam conflict. His son Victor, has been transferred from his duty on an aircraft carrier, with pilots flying air strikes into North Vietnam, to duty as liaison officer with the CIA. He is able to spend a few days with his father on the way to his new assignment and is told the story about the beginning of America’s slide into the Vietnam war.

Bentley’s tale of the troubling future that faced, first the French, and then the Americans, already present, in Vietnam. Landsdown discovered that he too was involved with his lover, with Dewey, and that Vietnam was a far more complicated mistress than any understood. As this absurd chain of events swirls around him, he successfully evades CIA leadership’s requests to transfer back to headquarters. Love and war has claimed him, as it would many others.

Sadly, the son became embroiled in the Vietnam war that his father tried to prevent but, with the help of the former Captain of the carrier they served on, was able to grab his opportunity to change the course of the war. He also becomes entangled in a love affair that causes tragedy during the later years of his life. The Ugly American is a cautionary tale as relevant in our times as it was in the mid-1950’s and 60’s. It lays the foundation for the stories told in Bentley’s first two novels: A Bold Experiment and Stranger Within. Hopefully, we will not continue to proceed as heedlessly now as we did then and the way the characters acted in his last two novels!
132 printed pages
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