Duty. Honor. Country. The words are chiseled on the walls surrounding the hallowed grounds of the West Point Military Academy and engraved on the rings and the hearts of every one of its graduates, including author Brian Haig. In The Night Crew, Haig’s protagonist, Lieutenant Colonel Sean Drummond – son of a West Point graduate, former Special Forces, current JAG lawyer and recalcitrant smart-ass, encounters the most challenging moral and ethical dilemmas of his career – having to choose between those words, and what they stand for.
With the memories of a his last case, a court martial in Korea and the bullet that nearly killed him all too fresh, Drummond is pulled back into another “legal and emotional tar pit and public relations tinderbox.” He is assigned to defend one of the Al-Basari prison guards charged with the sexual degradation of Iraqi prisoners and the murder of one of the notorious prison’s highest ranking inmates. Drummond is, understandably, unwilling to take the assignment. For one, it means working again with Katherine Carlson, his nemesis since their days at Georgetown Law and co-counsel in the Korean court martial. But Carlson has already anticipated Drummond’s reluctance and unilaterally had him reassigned from his new position with the CIA to her defense team. Carlson and Drummond mix as well as gasoline and fire. In fact, they are so profoundly different - they might just be perfect together. It gets worse. Drummond’s client is either a dim-witted pigeon the Government is offering up to be a sacrificial lamb, or a depraved and skilled liar who might just be guilty of murder. Key witnesses in the chain of command are either conveniently disappearing or washing their hands and memories of Al-Basari, Katherine reveals long held feelings for Drummond and, just to add more kindling to the fire, someone is killing the lawyers assigned to defend the prison guard defendants and Drummond and Carlson are next on the hit list.
The Night Crew is, first and foremost a thriller. The turns are hair-raising and the twists are edge of the seat thrilling that kept me up late reading. The dynamics of Drummond’s and Carlson’s relationship is at times maddening and at times heart breaking. Drummond is ever cynical, irreverent, combative and dogged, and his quips are laugh out loud funny. The novel asks poignant and contemporary questions – how far should a country go to win a war? How many legal foundations upon which the American judicial system is built should be sacrificed to potentially save soldiers’ lives? When, if ever, should human dignity be ignored?
But beyond all that, as with every Brian Haig thriller, the plot is much deeper than the reader is led to believe, and much more personal for Scott Drummond. As he tries to do a job he didn’t ask for and doesn’t want, Drummond not only risks his life but his own moral and ethical code. Can he fulfill his duty as a lawyer to his client and his duty as a soldier to his country? Can he protect his personal honor and still hold dear to his love of his country? Should he hold onto Katherine because he loves her, or let her go for the same reason? It is this personal struggle that engrosses the reader, and draws us into West Point’s storied history as well as the black mark that was Al-Basari. I closed the book with as many questions as Haig skillfully left to haunt Scott Drummond, and hoping that I’m never forced to make the same difficult choices.