The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: ‘The Tunnel Rats,’ Vietnam terror by Stephen Leather

Written By: herbrunbridge - Feb• 10•13

LeatherTunnelRatsbVietnam’s Cu Chi tunnels were a particularly nasty element in the Vietnam war. Built by the Viet Cong, they went for miles underground, and there were nasty things living in there, aside from Viet Cong soldiers, including rats, massive spiders, and stinging mites that lived in the tree roots. Novelist Stephen Leather has managed to capture the terror of what it was like to operate in the tunnels in his 500 page thriller The Tunnel Rats (1997, ISBN 978-0-340-68954-7). The author built his writing chops as a journalist and began writing books full-time in 1992. As of today, he’s written 26 novels. Though Tunnel Rats was one of his first, it’s got all the hallmarks of his later books: a twisted, intellectually stimulating plot, memorable characters, and a notion for locale and history that means he’s done his homework.

The story begins in London, where a war vet is found tortured to death in an abandoned railway tunnel. Conflict immediately comes into play between two competing police forces, and the dead man’s wife eventually looms as a significant player in the story. After the FBI becomes involved, the action shifts to Vietnam.

Leather is his most masterful in the 128 pages involving his characters’ actions in the tunnels. It’s claustrophobic, damp, fraught with punji sticks and spring-loaded spears, and in one nasty place, giant spiders. It’s also multi-level, again indicative of Leather’s emphasis on verisimilitude and frightening imagery. Being lost underground is a fear we’d guess most readers will fear as they read these pages.

Today, you can take a tour through the Cu Chi tunnels. We here at WoWasis have. But if you can’t (or won’t) The Tunnel Rats will take you there and provide you with a delicious crawl through armchair terror that will stay with you days after you’ve read the book. Highly recommended.

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