Friday, February 12, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: The Knife by Ross Ritchell

   A knife is a tool: it cuts things. Like all tools, it can be used for good and bad. Sometimes, bad things can happen when it's being used for good. The nature of a tool. 
     The knife that is the tool being used in The Knife, the debut novel by Ross Ritchell, is a five man special operation force in Afghanistan. They are a precision team that makes surgical strikes, cutting away at the enemy. The team is led by Shaw, on his tenth deployment, and includes Massey, Hagan, Delonna, and Cooke. They're are likable young men that, except for being drawn together by war, would probably never have become friends, never even met. 
     The novel is an account of the team and their work. Told in the third person, the prose is both poetic at times:
     Besides someone having an interesting mustache or getting whacked in their underwear, the kills weren't worth much of a second thought. Holding a weapon? Two in the chest. Strapped with a vest? Two in the head. If he'd wait a second longer it'd be him on the floor leaving into the ground, or one of his buddies. Maybe a building full of people. It was work. Living over life, way of the knife.  
and remarkably objective and unemotional at others:
They got all four of the Pups...Lion1 was upstairs in bed with is wife, an AK loaded and lying between them. He got two shots off on Ohio before Mike killed him, and then the wife picked up the rifle and Mike had to put two through her middle. It happened fast."
     The cadence is slow and dark, whether telling about one of their operations, their constant training, or Hagan's sexual proclivity. It is not bogged down with explanations for the military slang and acronyms throughout the book. (A glossary at the end will help ease confusion if necessary.)

     There is depth and development of characters, but it comes from dialogue: 
     "Sky's pretty," Hagan Said. He spat over the lip of the roof. "Too bad the rest of the county is such shit."     It's not shit, Hog," Massey said. "Dumbass cell leaders and pricks just crap all over it and then we come over and piss on it some more and then everyone wonders why it's such a shit country. It's not...It's a place full of people that wipe their assess with the land for God, oil, or country--whatever the fuck--and wonder why it stinks so bad. The land is beautiful. We're shit." He shook his head. "I'd want to be buried in a country this beautiful."
Author Ross Ritchell
     That the story is told objectively does not mean that readers will not feel emotion, they will, very powerful ones that are certain to include laughter, tears, love, disgust, and everything else that one might expect when spending time in a war zone with five soldiers. But the emotions will be a reaction, raw and powerful, originating from within the reader, not prescribed by the author. 
     Many war novels are abstract, filled with symbolism to be interpreted by every reader, by inner narratives that share the struggles of combat and reactions to it. That The Knife is so simply told is what makes it more powerful and is what sets it apart from many of the others. 
      If it's true that authors write what they know, then Mr. Ritchell knows more about war, death, and killing then any man should.  Thank you for sharing it. 

Ritchell, Ross. The Knife, Blue Rider Press, Penguin Random House, February 2, 2016. 
ISBN 978-0-399-17340-0

A copy of The Knife was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher. No compensation was provided for this review. 

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