Author: F. G. Rist
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 390 pages
A glimpse into the secret war in Laos
Many books have been written about the Vietnam War, not so many about the war in Cambodia, and a few about the secret war in Laos. Mystic Dancer is about Laos; a well-crafted novel that will linger in your thoughts long after the last page is read.
Rist is a storyteller, but more important, he is a storyteller who has been there and done that. Only such a person could capture the nuance and details that make the story come alive. I enjoy reading and reviewing novels and have written four. Accuracy is my main measuring stick, and I especially enjoy a novel with historical events and places combined with technical accuracy. Even better is a novel that provides new information and a new perspective on past events. Mystic Dancer is such a novel.
Pike, a USAF pilot ejects from his Phantom over the mountains in Laos. Injured, he is saved by Song Mai, a member of a Hmong (the Free People) village. There he meets Father Valmont, a Catholic priest who becomes his mentor.
As he recovers, Pike begins to understand he is immersed in the complex wars within a war that eventually defeated the U.S. in Southeast Asia. The Pathet Lao, the Communists, attempt to capture Pike, and the major warlord, Khum Rhah, protects him.
Like so many Americans, Pike has problems coping with the complexities of the Orient. After a harrowing escape from the Pathet Lao, he makes his way to the capitol city, Vientiane, where he finds that the CIA is in charge of the area, and later discovers that they and the Air Force have entirely different agenda. Opium is the lifeblood of Laos. Drug Warlords control the land and the collection and shipment of opium. The drug trade is a vital part of the Laotian economy, and the military is involved; a situation the CIA station chief is attempting to manipulate.
Through Pike, the author leads the reader through the complexities of Laos as Pike blunders through the maze of conflicting motives and agenda, attempting to understand the Oriental way of thinking.
The CIA is attempting to build a radar station and create a Laotian resistance force by working with the drug warlord Khun Rhah. At the same time the USAF is attempting to destroy the Pathet Lao, North Vietnam regulars and the Viet Cong. Felix, a narcotics agent, arrives to attempt to cutoff the supply of drugs being expedited by the CIA and members of the Laotian government and military. Pike finds himself trapped and drawn into games he does not understand.
The secret war in Laos begins unraveling with the arrival of Rebecca Ryan, a blonde reporter from San Francisco. Her stories focus attention on Laos and more reporters arrive, adding another conflicting agenda—headlines rather than winning the war.
The CIA disregards military advice as it builds the radar station and the consequences will shock some readers.
Can any part of this tale be true? Unknown, but the story exudes authenticity and realism. I am familiar with reports of “Yellow Rain” during the Soviet-Afghan war, but the description of a similar agent in this book was a surprise.
As Pike’s journey through this complex story continues, he meets more characters; all of whom are interesting and well developed.
Some scenes involve torture and are not for the faint of heart.
Reviewed by: Lee Boyland (2013)