Where Losers Live, Heroes Die
by Gary Helzer
BookVenture Publishing

"Feeling a little disgusted with that idea, I interrupted, 'You mean I might have to shoot people? Dammit, Sarge! I quit shooting at people over in Vietnam.'"

Hans Metzger first learns to kill in Vietnam. An Idaho farm boy before the war, he manages to survive long enough after battling the Viet Cong in places like Da Nang to make his way back to the States. He emerges from the savagery a military hero, bedecked with a chest full of medals attesting to his bravery and self-sacrifice. But war can change a person, bringing out latent traits or altering existing ones to make one react much differently in situations than perhaps one would have responded previously.

The first indication of Hans' transformation possibly comes when he easily agrees to have casual sex with two girls who have picked him up as a hitchhiker. Yes, this is the late sixties when the concept of free love is beginning to sweep the nation, but Hans' stated goals after leaving the Army are to go back to the farm to help his father run it and marry his girlfriend Sheila. Was infidelity always part of Hans' personality, or is this event an aberration? An even more obvious pointer to his changing behavior is when he steals the Cadillac of the girls' drug-dealing host, destroys the motorcycles of the dealer's friends, and only worries about getting caught with a stolen car. Justifying his theft, Hans tells himself that the dope pusher doesn't deserve the vehicle. While this may be true, Hans' actions appear to be rather risky for a person intending to do right by his dad, settle down on a farm, and start a family. But probably the biggest clue that the war has had an effect on Hans' reactions is the blinding rage he feels toward the dealer and his companions, or as he puts it, "A hatred went through me for those creeps, worse than what I had for the Viet Cong"—an enemy he had come to hate enough to kill without compunction.

Hans returns to Idaho only to discover that his goals are now unreachable. His father has run up a tremendous debt on the family farm and will probably lose it, and Sheila is pregnant and soon to be married to another man. To add to his personal disaster, the police discover Hans' stolen Cadillac. As his world continues to collapse around him, Hans makes a fateful decision—he accepts a job offer he had originally rejected from Pete, his former sergeant, to help get a casino up and running in the Bahamas for Tony Bacco, Pete's former commander. That choice will lead Hans into another war, one in which the former Idaho farm boy will devolve into a ruthless killer of almost anyone who stands in his way.

The author has crafted a fast-paced tale that on one level is reminiscent of the early Executioner novels by Don Pendleton. However, unlike Pendleton's Mack Bolan—whose war of revenge on the Mafia could potentially be see en as justifiable and who took pains to shield the innocent from harm—Hans frequently allows himself to cross moral and ethical lines. He and his friends do kill Mafia-like characters who hurt and enslave others, but they also have little problem taking the lives of the local law enforcement officers in their pursuit of their goal. Helzer's book raises thought-provoking questions about war's effects on the individual and the fine line between noble warrior and brutal savage. Hans' journey from hero to loser is sobering and gives the novel some welcome depth.

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