cover image The Good Lieutenant

The Good Lieutenant

Whitney Terrell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-16473-7

Terrell’s audacious new novel begins with a literal bang as a U.S. Army patrol in Iraq goes terribly wrong for Lt. Emma Fowler, who is present as her secret lover, Lt. Dixon Pulowski, is critically wounded in an explosion while attempting to recover the corpse of a kidnapped sergeant. The narrative moves in reverse chronological order from there, to show the events before the botched operation, depicting the previous op that got the sergeant abducted at Muthanna intersection, an IED explosion at the same intersection that cost the lives of two soldiers earlier, a bad call made by the colonel who declared the intersection safe, and Fowler’s stateside training, where she begins her love affair with Pulowski. Although this backward conceit has been used before, as in the Christopher Nolan film Memento and the Harold Pinter play Betrayal, it works particularly well in this story, which employs the structure to critique the follies of the Iraq War and the adamantine nature of the military mind-set. Terrell (The King of Kings County) shows us how soldiers think and address one another with a stinging combination of military argot and pop culture references. The book’s last line echoes the title of one of the first novels about modern warfare, Thomas Boyd’s Through the Wheat (1923), to which this novel is an entirely worthy successor. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins Associates. (June)