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Book Review: Ross Ritchell's 'The Knife'


Last year, the National Book Award went to Phil Klay, a writer who used his experience as a veteran in his fiction. Well, now a new writer, also a veteran, is giving Klay a run for his money. Ross Ritchell's new book is called "The Knife." Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says it's the best yet in the genre.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: "The Knife" is slang for special operations. Ross Ritchell explains that they're a group of skilled soldiers expressly used to hunt down and eliminate terrorist networks - teams that are, as he puts it, out in the night doing their best to kill the right people. Ritchell eases us into this world in the opening pages, starting with the alert that brings the squadron together for their flight to an amorphous region they refer to as Afghanipakiraqistan.

We see it from the point of view of Dutch, the team leader. Dutch watches his men as they pack their kits in preparation for action. And in two pages reminiscent of Tim O'Brien's Vietnam novel, "The Things They Carried," we get an inventory of what Dutch himself carries in his kit. There are reams of gauze, stacks of wrapped bandages and cotton compresses, scissors, tape and a hollow metal cylinder with plastic wrap for sucking chest wounds. Ritchell packs this novel in the same way - the land, the weather, the men, their lives and, in some cases, their deaths, all in under 300 pages. Put this one in your own kit. The best novel yet about life at the point of the knife in these times of overlapping foreign wars.

SIEGEL: The book is "The Knife" by Ross Ritchell. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.