The Recruit by Alan Drew opens with a foreshadowing that gives us texture and backstory that helps readers understand the book’s theme and what is to come. Drew wrote the novel primarily from the point of view of Detective Benjamin Wade. Wade, a former LAPD detective, has moved to a smaller suburban department are tiring of the L.A. gang violence. But the author uses multiple points of view from other key characters at times to add additional layers to the story. Thematically, the novel’s focus is racism, particularly that directed towards Vietnamese and Hispanic immigrants and white supremacy.
From the Publisher
Rancho Santa Elena in 1987 seems like the ideal Southern California paradise—that is, until a series of strange crimes threatens to unravel the town’s social fabric: workers attacked with mysterious weapons; a wealthy real estate developer found dead in the pool of his beach house. The only clues are poison and red threads found at both crime scenes. As Detective Benjamin Wade and forensic expert Natasha Betencourt struggle to connect the incidents, they begin to wonder: Why Santa Elena? And why now?
Soon Ben zeroes in on a vicious gang of youths involved in the town’s burgeoning white power movement. As he and Natasha uncover the truth about Santa Elena’s unsavory underbelly, Ben discovers that the group is linked to a much wider terror network, one that’s using a new technology called the internet to spread its ideology, plan attacks, and lure young men into doing its bidding. Ben closes in on identifying the gang’s latest target, hoping that the young recruit will lead him to the mastermind of the growing network. But as he digs deeper in an ever-widening investigation, Ben is forced to confront uncomfortable truths about himself and his beloved community, where corruption is ignored and prejudice is wielded against fellow citizens without fear of reprisal.
Though the author doesn’t state the specific time of the story, he offers ample clues that help us understand it takes place in 1987 (and it’s mentioned in summary), about twelve years after the fall of Saigon and the formal end of the Vietnam War. It begins with Wade investigating a racial harassment crime where someone left a mutilated dog and printed racial slurs in an alley behind a store owned by a Vietnamese refugee, Bao Phan. As Drew develops that story line, he breaks into the B story of a murder investigation that eventually intersects with the main story.
Candidly, after reading the foreshadowing intro, I didn’t expect to like this book much. I read fiction for entertainment and a brief respite from the generally unhappy state of the world today, not for a fiction writer to expound their moralistic worldviews. The book seemed headed toward becoming a little too Steinbeckish for my liking, a modern-day Grapes of Wrath. And to be fair, there was a good bit of purposeful moralizing. And the author’s candid acknowledgment at the end removed any doubts about it.
“… I was trying to dramatize in The Recruit: that the aftermath of the Vietnam War sparked a new white supremacy movement, one that coalesced in the 1980s around the fledgling Internet and ultimately found legitimacy as a mainstream political movement in the presidency of Donald Trump.”
But thankfully, the quality of the writing, the compelling story, and the richly-drawn, realistic characters helped the novel overcome what I felt was its only serious flaw. Of course, serious literary works of fiction should have a theme, but in fairness to fiction readers, advocating of personal worldviews is probably best left to non-fiction books.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, which offers a tight and suspense-filled plot that keeps the pages turning. I’d characterize it as a suburban police procedural as the story revolves around detectives solving crimes after it’s already clear who the perpetrators are. I received an advance review copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley used for this review, representing my honest opinions.