Review: Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order: The Final Years of the Vietnam War

Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order: The Final Years of the Vietnam War Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order: The Final Years of the Vietnam War by Dan Dane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review addresses both the book and the audiobook. When civil attorney, Bill Blake is drafted into the army, he leaves his wife and children behind to go to Vietnam. Once there, he does not fight a war, but is placed in the JAG Core—the lawyers who deal with justice within the military. They act as prosecutors or defense to military personnel who have committed various crimes. These crimes often mean court martial being in violation of “Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order”.

The audiobook gives an account of the ten months Blake serves in Bien Hoa, dealing with his cases, his comrades, his superiors, and his evaluation of the war. While the book does have a beginning and an end (Blake arriving in Vietnam; Blake leaving Vietnam), the middle of the story is filled with a series of snippets of the various cases Blake must handle and other events during his time. The middle section reveals a panorama of issues that Blake must contend with which include drug abuse, corruption in the army, racism, and attacks by the enemy.

Blake is your typical “everyman”—trying to do his part in the war, survive, help his fellow soldiers, and get home in one piece. Through his eyes, we see how the good intentions and high hopes of many Vietnam soldiers slowly ebbed into depression, sadness, and dissolution, and how these soldiers sought escape both physically and mentally.

In the courtroom, he plays both the prosecution and the defense, depending on what he is assigned. But he approaches each side with just as much ferocity. He defends one marijuana dealer just as intensely as he prosecutes a heroin dealer. He does his job to the best of his ability like many of his fellow lawyers. Much of his frustration does not come from the enemy, but from his own side—his corrupt superiors and an incompetent co-worker. These people cause the source of much of Blake’s misery—not the enemy. He rationalizes and understands the enemy—though he rarely has to face them—but it’s those people around him, that make him really question what Vietnam is all about.

This dramatized audiobook is superb in its presentation. The sound effects are stunningly real. Often, I found myself looking around for a helicopter, and turning down the volume to see if the "whomp whomp whomp" was a helicopter in the book or a flat tire. The sounds, when incorporated are smoothly intertwined with the story, providing another element of reality to the production, without overdoing it. The sound effects such as the helicopter are very low and then slowly become prominent. Most of the sound effects are gently sounded but believable—even the gunfire manages to be unobtrusive—a difficult feat for any sound engineer. At the end, the same song is played on each CD serving as an indicator to put in the next disc. The music both style and lyrics seem to blend naturally with the atmosphere of the audiobook.

Ross Ballard may be a newcomer to the field of audiobooks (prior work includes his first official audiobook, “Irreparable Harm” by Randy Singer), he is quickly becoming a favorite to my ears. In “Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order,” Ross Ballard nails all his cues. The book is written in the first person—a style that compliments Ballard’s accent and smooth deliverance. His natural Virginian accent blends perfectly well with the book. His twang gives a bit of warmth and sincerity that improves the quality of this audiobook tenfold. While it is hard for him to break his drawl, it was not necessary for this audiobook. Being told through the eyes of Bill Blake, it seemed actually more real that all the characters had a hint of Blake in them—as if directly seen through his eyes. After all, it is Blake’s story. Ballard’s smoothness cannot be underrated either. His aptly applies gentleness where needed and yet can hold to the firm tone when required—and can change from one to the other with great ease.

If you are looking for a “war novel”, with lots of explosions, fights, and gore, this audiobook should not be on your list. However, if you are looking for one man’s experience in the Vietnam War and the lessons he learned during his ten months in Bien Hoa, you should consider this. The range of emotion Blake faces from elation to depression is a truthful emotional evaluation of what war can mean to men and women who leave their homes and represent the US across the world.

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