Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone (Novel, 1974).
This one is very much a creature of its times (set in fading days of America’s disastrous ‘Vietnam Adventure’). Converse, a sketchy American hack writer and ‘journalist’ shuffling aimlessly through war-ravaged and chaotic Saigon, foolishly involves himself in a heroin smuggling operation. He enlists Ray, a former-marine buddy he hasn’t seen in years, to carry 3 kilos back to the States. Ray is to link up with Marge, Converse’s wife, but it proves to be a set-up, oversaw by Antheil, a corrupt and utterly ruthless drug enforcement agent.
Ray thinks he’s a tough guy, but is way over his head. He and Marge barely escape and go on the run with the heroin. Both begin to sample the ‘goods’ (especially Marge, who is already a frequent user of other drugs) and wander ever deeper into the freaked out druggie culture then approaching critical mass around them.
Meanwhile, Converse returns to California, learns things have gone wrong and is brutalized and at length captured by Agent Antheil’s crew.
After several bungled attempts to sell the drug, a desperate Ray returns with Marge to a mountaintop former commune where. Dieter, Ray’s onetime spiritual mentor (think personal guru) now wants nothing to do with the drug scene–while still honoring other aspects of 60s-era hippie philosophy. He wants to save the newcomers from themselves.
But Antheil and company track them down. Horrific battle ensues, building to a climax as grim as it seems inevitable. Some few survive–I won’t spoil it for readers by saying more.
The book is a very downbeat portrait of a time when America seemed right on the verge of self-destructing and perhaps the only consolation offered today’s reader is historical perspective: Our present situation (as frustrating and disheartening as it is) is certainly no worse. This novel is not a pleasant read (obviously) and (although a National Book Award winner) a bit overrated in my opinion, yet often suspenseful and at least worth a look.