Monday, April 19, 2021

The Elephant Cage by Brooks Powell

The Elephant CageThe Elephant Cage by Brooks Powell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With the mid-1970s setting in Turkey, there is a really good story here, but I felt like I only got glimpses of it.

It's 1973, and Airman George Pearson reports to his new assignment after completing the USAF School of Cryptologic Sciences: Karamursel Air Base, Turkey. Located a couple of hours outside of Istanbul on the coast of the Maramara Sea, Karamursel is an air base without planes or a runway. It is the location of "The Elephant Cage," one of the largest and most sophisticated listening stations operated by the United States. To George Pearson, it will be "home" for the next 18 months, and it is strange and dirty and hot.

George's work assignment is to listen in on radio traffic from the Soviet Union to collect and record military intel. It comes with a demanding, exhaustive work schedule, secret clearance, and a lot of stress. Many airmen relieve their stress with sex, drugs, or loud rock and roll; George indulges in all three. George is especially known for being a ladies' man, but only a week before arriving at his new duty station, George married his high school prom date, Natalie, and she will be coming to join him in-country in a few months.

With the drugs and their effect on his work habits and attitude, things quickly go sideways when his new wife arrives. To compound his problems, he gets on his commanding officer's bad side despite being one of the best at his job (but not his military appearance and hygiene). But when one of his circle of friends gets arrested by the Turkish police for possession of a large quantity of hashish, things really go south. In Turkey, possession and participation in drug trafficking draw the worst consequences, and now, instead of a possible court-martial, George and his friends could end up facing a death sentence.

The Elephant Cage is a short historical fiction novel by debut author Brooks Powell. The mid-1970s time period and its Turkish setting were interesting, fresh, and immediately drew me in. I liked the mix of the fictional George's story with the events that were going on in Turkey, Cyprus, and the U.S. political scene at that time. I just couldn't connect with George, though. For one thing, his frequent references to his penis and the current state of its arousal were off-putting to me. He and the other characters work in an intriguing setting, and it felt like very little time was spent on this aspect of the plot. However, I thought that the commanding officer's resolution for the drug arrest was exciting and one of the book's best parts.

The author provides a lengthy timeline at the end of the book that contains the historical background to the events current to the story's time. However, it (and consequently its readers) would benefit from some pruning and clean-up to remove many repetitive entries, especially those that are exact duplicates of others. Even if the author just paraphrased the relevant bits, this would prove more useful and interesting (because it is interesting!)

I recommend The Elephant Cage, but with reservations. There is a really good story here, but I feel like I only got glimpses of it. I urge the author to dive back in on this one, expand the story, and give us more of the good stuff.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

Read my original review on Reedsy Discovery!

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