Title: Captain Harding’s Six-Day War
Author: Elliott Mackle
Cover Artist: Ben Baldwin
Publisher: Lethe Press
Buy Link: Amazon.com Genre: Gay Fiction
Length: 252 pages/86000 words
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: I enjoyed this story about the lives of American soldiers on the air base in Tripoli in 1966
Assigned to baby-sit a loose-cannon colonel at remote Wheelus Air Base, Libya, handsome, hard-charging Captain Joe Harding spends his off-duty time bedding an enlisted medic and a muscular major, then begins a nurturing friendship with the American ambassador’s teenage son. The boy swiftly develops a crush on the man, feelings that Joe, a Southern gent with a strong moral sense, feels he cannot acknowledge or return. Joe’s further adventures and misadventures during the course of the novel involve a clerk’s murder, a flight-surgeon’s drug abuse, a fist-fight in the officers’ club bar, a straight roommate whose taste for leather gets him in trouble, the combat death of Joe’s former lover, and participation in an all-male orgy witnessed by two very married but somewhat confused fighter jocks.
In the run-up to the 1967 war, a mob attacks the embassy in nearby Tripoli and the deranged colonel sets out to attack an Arab warship. To bring the pilots and their airplanes safely home and keep the United States out of the war Joe has two choices: either come out to his closest, straightest buddies or know himself to be a coward, a failure and a traitor to everything that he holds dear.
I tried to purchase this book last year, but its publication was postponed numerous times, so when I saw that it was finally being released with a different publisher, of course I wanted to read and review it. This story is exceptionally well-written, the writing is gritty and has a realistic feel, and I have had no problem believing that the narrator is a professional serviceman.
It is heart-wrenching to follow Joe Harding on his journey and see how hard it was for gay soldiers to do their duty and constantly hide such important part of who they are from the outside world and still manage to form connections with each other. But they did not live in constant despair; they served, they found each other and they even managed to have sex sometimes (more like a lot in this book). Although there was a constant feeling of danger in this book, or at least this is how I felt when reading it — the constant danger of discovery, arrest and prison only for having sex with another man.
There is a lot to like in Joe’s character. Somebody who put himself through college despite having a father like Joe has, somebody who always feels empathy for the situation of fellow gay soldiers and tries to help if he can. Joe is not a saint though; he is a rather pragmatic young man who wants to have a career in the army, and while he wants to help others if possible, he also wants to help himself and not be discovered. I wondered if Joe was being a little too hard on himself throughout the story since he constantly questions whether he is using people with whom he is having sex, even though it definitely did not feel that way to me.
I wondered what genre to put the book in besides gay fiction and am actually not sure. There is a lot of sex in there, but it is not romantic sex — there is sex between the friends, though, and there is a possible beginning of love story, however for those of you who care, be warned another guy is sixteen. I thought their friendship was sweet and tender and hoped that maybe in a few years they will actually get a chance to be together. Right now it was more like a mutual crash and Joe, as the blurb tells us, is being a gentleman and trying not to act on his own feelings. Joe’s thoughts are much less saintly than the blurb tries to tell us though. In the end I decided to stick with gay fiction because, in my opinion, to call this story a romance will be a stretch.
I was also wondering whether the story is an action/adventure and I am also not sure. There is definitely action in the last part of the story, but overall, despite the excellently-sketched atmosphere of tension and war between Israeli and Arabs, the story is more devoted to everyday life — sexual and otherwise — of the American soldiers at the base, so again I am not sure if I would call it action/adventure. I guess because of this constant feeling of danger that I mentioned above, I wanted to classify it as action/adventure.
I really enjoyed the secondary characters in this story. They came alive on the pages for me, be it Cotton or medic Duane or Joe’s roommate, Jeff, they definitely felt as if they were real people living out the story author was telling us. I got choked up several times while reading this book, but I also was so proud of Joe Harding.