Maria’s staff pick: ‘The Valley,’ by John Renehan

by Roger Cottingham

The Valley, by John Renehan

What kind of novel can you expect from an attorney-turned-field artillery captain turned back into an attorney?

If you’ve read John Renehan’s The Valley, you know this answer. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s an answer that’s worth discovering.

Lt. Black is a desk officer at battalion headquarters who is sent to one of the most remote and dangerous outposts in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan to conduct an after-action investigation. This investigation, called a 15-6, is nothing more than a low-level fact-finding mission to find out why an American soldier shot a civilian’s goat. This investigative version of army “busywork” quickly spirals out of control – in several surprising and alarming directions.

The Valley is definitely a whodunnit/whydunnit/what exactly is it that’s being done. But Renehan’s novel is much more than that. The story includes some sharp insight into soldiers who are put in dangerous and immediate harm’s way with ambiguous orders and uncertain leadership. It puts the social politics of isolated individuals in extreme circumstances on vivid display (think “Restrepo” x 5).

Along with the peek-behind-the-curtain view of the soldier’s world, The Valley is packed with numerous “what the hell” moments. That, along with plenty of misdirection and red herrings, will keep you reading late into the night to find out just what is really going on and who is responsible. The Valley is absolutely worth your time.

— Roger Cottingham

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