War is a terrible and terrifying experience no matter the situation, but take crime, drugs, manipulation and scandal and you have a whole new world of terrible and terrifying. That is the exact picture of the war in Afghanistan that John Renehan paints in his novel The Valley. Renehan, a former field officer in Iraq, writes The Valley from an intimate vantage point, though he is clear in stating that he has never visited the places he mentions in the novel and that he depended more on research than on personal experience when it came to the setting.
Though Renehan jumps a bit between characters, the main protagonist in The Valley is Lieutenant Black, a desk officer who is assigned a 15-6, or an investigation. This particular investigation involves a troop that is stationed in the Valley, a mysterious and notoriously dangerous place between the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Black arrives to investigate a stray bullet that was shot in the village by one of the soldiers stationed there. Immediately upon arrival though, things seem a bit out of sorts, and Black slowly begins to unravel the pieces of a well-weaved story.
In a way, Renehan writes The Valley as a mystery novel, dropping clues for the reader to try to figure out the mystery for herself. The mystery, though, is so convoluted and twisted up in other mysteries that it is at times hard to follow who is manipulating who, who is lying, who is the good guy and the bad. But really, these are the lessons of war, the uncertainty bound up in fighting violently with other cultures, with one another, and with ourselves. Renehan is sure to wrap everything up in the end, and in the final pages, the reader is able to sigh a breath of relief: everything makes sense.
Beautifully written, Renehan weaves not only literal poetry into his work, but his writing style in itself is poetic. The mysterious aura of the Valley and of particular characters in The Valley makes the novel an almost ethereal and majestic read at times.
The Valley is Renehan’s first novel, and was nominated for Indie Next List in 2015. The Valley was published in 2015 by Dutton, a Penguin Group publisher.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.