Duty: Suspense and Mystery Stories from the Cold War and Beyond by Martin Roy Hill is, for the most part, a collection of previously published short stories. These stories originally appeared in San Diego Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and San Diego Writer’s Monthly. Hill is a former editor for newspapers and magazines and now works as a military operations analyst.
As a former Marine and Cold War veteran, I looked forward to reading this collection. Duty seemed to have everything I could ask for. Although none of the stories are about Marines, when Marines are mentioned it is always with a capital “M”. We Marines like that. Shortly after the end of the Cold War, I was in graduate school for International Relations and it was a unique time in history. Everything changed. The bipolar world we knew so well disintegrated and all policy was new. One professor said, “One day we will look back on history and miss the days of the Cold War.” Today, the world lacks the stability and hard and fast rules set by the two superpowers. Granted we are no longer facing M.A.D., but we now have extra-governmental forces (terrorists) causing problems that there is no easy solution for. Yes, I do miss the old days and Duty took me back to the Cold War and my days in the military.
The stories are all very good. The story “Stragglers”, perhaps, is the most moving and unexpected stories in the book. It is very well thought out and an ending that not only caught me off guard, but also evoked emotion that I was not expecting. In another story, I was reminded of some of the shiftier people I served with. Although they did nothing as elaborate as the character in the story tried to pull off, they did have some scams going on. The title story “Duty” demonstrates just how seriously service members take their jobs and the stress that is on them everyday that they put on a uniform. “The Use of Innocence” reminds me of an often used phrase in the military — Silly ass boot. Boot being the term of someone fresh out of bootcamp and “silly ass” the romanticized vision of war, duty, and everything military. From the story as a Vietnam vet observes soldiers headed for the Middle East:
At first I thought they were stupid, or maybe crazy. Then I looked at them again and saw how really young they were, almost nothing more than children.
There is a change in the world too, as veterans of different wars, who died in battle, meet up in the afterlife:
“And I was fighting communists,” Bill (Vietnam) said. “Communists supplied with Russian guns. In 1968, fascist countries like Spain were our allies. Lots of them were.”
John (WWII) was struck with a thought that turned his face into a mask of horror. “You mean we lost the war? Hitler won?”
Duty took me back and brought back many memories, mostly good. It seems like just the other day, but as much as I hate to admit it, it has been much longer. Here is a collection of very well written stories about a time in history that the under thirty crowd has not experienced. It was a time sabre rattling, propaganda, and well defined good and bad guys. The one thing that has not changed through time is the sense of duty in all those who have and are serving demonstrate. This collection is a reminder of that era and a reminder that duty extends to every era’s service members. Duty really hit the mark for me. Truly well done.