The Perfect Soldier

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Life has not been kind to Christopher Ritter of late. First his wife commits suicide, his best friend is slaughtered by bandits in the former Soviet Union, and Ritter himself is maimed in consequence of the same action. Moreover, his latest assignment places him at the disposal of Assistant Secretary of Defense Charlene Whyte, with whom he once shared a bed and the hope of a future together. Just when Ritter was positive things could not get worse, predictably they did.

Whyte’s newest crusade concerns American POWs captured in Korea who ended their days in the Soviet Gulag. She has been in contact with a retired Russian general who claims to have documentary proof of the existence of such prisoners. Unfortunately, for both Whyte and Ritter, a number of powerful individuals are opposed to seeing the truth of the matter emerge. Indeed these people are so determined to limit the entire episode to the category of unsubstantiated rumor they will go to extremely lethal lengths. If the two former lovers are to survive, the warrior and the bureaucrat must pool their resources and abandon old enmities.

Ralph Peters’ earlier novels occupied a broad stage with a cast of characters so massive as to require a dramatis personae. THE PERFECT SOLDIER, on the other hand, plays across a restricted space, therefore the fervor Peters’ brings to his work is all the more intense. The plot is convoluted, the action breakneck, and the denouement is definitely not telegraphed. Furthermore, in a understated manner, Peters drives home his contention that members of the American military were abandoned by their government in the course of the Cold War.