Robin's Reviews > Joker One: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood

Joker One by Donovan Campbell
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Jul 22, 2010

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These platoon stories are starting to come out of the Iraq and Afghan wars, and this one is ready-made for screenplay. Told Band of Brothers style, Campbell's book begins with his arrival as a new lieutenant in the USMC as the Corps is about to replace the Army as the US troops in charge. We meet his troops and see them through training -- all the story beats you would expect from this type of book.

They arrive in Ramadi in 2004. If you know more about the Battle of the Bulge than you do about the Battles of Ramadi or Falujah, there is opportunity to correct that by reading the occasional tale of our current wars.

From here, we get to know the guys in their firefights and downtimes, in their failed attempts at every turn to convince the Iraqis that they are there to help. As always, we learn that combat troops fight for each other, not for us, and only for the mission if it makes any damn sense to them. When flare-ups occur, the writing gets tangled up. Campbell (or his editors) want to storyboard the battles, You Are There style, but then subject us to several pages of explanation when it is all over. We suffer through dialogue (no doubt re-imagined) between Marines to piece together the events we just read. It's like a squadroom scene in Law & Order....with voices.

Narrator David Drummond chooses to personalize the characters through a Musclehead (think Seinfeld's Putty), Latino, and Filipino accent, plus an African-American cadance that sounds like Mel Blanc as Stepin Fetchit. Not necesssary. Fairly offensive. This is underscored by the pigeon English some characters' dialogue is written in: "Maybe I should go over and asks him ... take his minds off the fears..." bleh.

Some sad stuff happens, some funny moments are remembered, some sweet young boys become hardened old men but remain kind to one another... all the stuff you look for in war memoirs, without the romance of 60 years distance.

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