By Alexander Blevens
TouchPoint Press, $15.99, 244 pages, Format: Trade
Star Rating: 5 / 5
It’s 1970 and twenty-three-year-old Senior Airman Rex Thompson, on his second tour in Vietnam, is about to improve his prospects for the future. He opens the safe he has access to and helps himself to $46,000, money the US government has sent to the South Vietnamese Army for their use. Unfortunately, he’s caught in the act by Captain Nguyen Duc Dung. Rather than arrest Thompson, Dung makes him return the money to the safe and then reports the incident to his superiors. Later that same day, Rex goes back, and this time undetected, he takes the money from the safe.
When the theft is discovered, Dung is charged with “the failure to safeguard the valuable assets of the armed forces of South Vietnam,” but rather than be court-martialed, he’s sent on a military suicide mission. These events set the stage for the tragic unfolding of Bycatch by Alexander Blevens.
Flash forward twenty-three years to a dark night on Biloxi Bay as two young men work to scuttle a shrimp trawler resting at anchor just off shore. The trawler once belonged to Rex. He operated it with his two sons, Jake and Pigeon, until it was repossessed due to his drinking and gambling. It was bought from the bank by none other than Captain Dung, the same man who took the rap for Thompson’s theft. Dung is now Don Nguyen and a prosperous shrimper in Biloxi. Rex has disappeared and Jake and Pigeon, motivated by misguided revenge, are scuttling the boat.
But when the boat sinks, the new owner goes down with it, and Jake and Pigeon inadvertently become murderers. As an investigation gets underway, Rex resurfaces sober and saved. It doesn’t take him long to figure out what happened and who the murderers are. How can he save his sons from lengthy prison terms when, ultimately, he is responsible?
Meanwhile, as Nguyen’s daughter struggles to come to terms with her father’s death, she begins to learn more about his past and the role Rex played in it. But rather than condemn Rex and his sons, she seeks closure by trying to find something positive that can be salvaged from this tragic event, these damaged people, and their broken lives.
Bycatch by Alexander Blevens is a big, entertaining story that speaks to universal themes of family, honor, culture, faith, and history. The narrative is supported by numerous realistic characters and an impeccably researched plot that is flawlessly structured and presented.—San Francisco Book Review.