Book Review: Agent of Orange

Agent of Orange by Michael P. Amram is the fictional story of Chauncy T. McClarren. Amram earned a BA in English from the University of Minnesota- Duluth in 1989. After having his short stories and poetry published he began to write full time.

Corporal McClarren witnessed quite a bit more than the average Vietnam veteran. He even took part in Operation Frequent Wind as part of his last tour. McClarren now runs a gym in Florida which he started with the G.I. Bill and has a beautiful girl friend, who happens to have met Jim Morrison before she went on the lam. She is wanted for her involvement in the Hibernia Bank robbery as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. McClarren’s wheelchair bound friend, who was also a Marine, is the former Gunnery Sergeant Harold Coffman. McClarern saved Coffman’s life earlier in the war. McClarren primary interest, however, is in finding his birth father, who was a black man working in interwar Germany.

At the start of the book, I was taken back to the 1970s. Many things I remember from the news and the culture came back to me. The book had the feel of a made for TV movie with the over hued color and “Quinn Martin production” type plot — authentic 70s. There was some name dropping, Jim Morrison and Patty Hearst, of course. The culture of the 70s seemed to jump out of the pages. Amram research, in many respects, is commendable. He mentions my former commanding general in Operation Frequent Wind. He gives plenty of background into the SLA, African Americans in Nazi Germany, and Judaism. There seems to be a good deal of research in several topics of the book.

Other topics could have used a bit more research. GPS is mentioned twice in the book twenty years before it became operational. McClarren’s girl friend rented and kept a “Ford Buick.” Other topics, such as, McClearren wearing his uniform years after discharge, still having a military ID, and earning a Purple Heart for saving someone’s life are out of place. McClearren, also, has quite some leeway with crossing international borders by his word alone. I know this is a work of fiction and that there has to be some suspension of disbelief, however, it seemed that every time I got on board with the story something would trip me up.

Agent of Orange

One the whole this is a good story of a man trying to find his birth father, treatment of veterans after the Vietnam War, and life in the 1970s. Tying in events of the period like the SLA, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and musical references move the story along at a good pace. The history lessons built into the story are well researched and helpful to those who did not experience the times. However, for this reader the devil is in the details. Although some errors are small they seemed to jump up at me. For those without the military experience, most of these details may pass right over you, unnoticed. Agent Orange is an interesting story, and one worth reading for the lesser known events of interwar Germany and to experience the determination in one man’s search to find his roots. If I hadn’t served in the Marines and wasn’t a stickler for details, I would have a better rating for this book; it has a great deal of potential.

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