2023 IPPY Bonze Medal for Wartime Fiction
Hildy Brentwood is sure her friend was innocent of murder/suicide. Her university bosses and the police want to shut down the investigation. She enlists her CEO mother and her journalist daughter to track down the murderer before Hildy is the next victim.
1969—Martin Carter’s plan is to survive his tour in Vietnam and return to his wife and newborn daughter. He refused his commission to keep from lying to his men, but ultimately becomes a leader to his team and to a small group of Vietnamese villagers. He must find whoever is running drugs through the camp before he can safely get home.
2019—Robin Carter’s plan is to care for her grandmother and to restart her career after a disastrous divorce. Martin’s footlocker is unexpectedly delivered to their home—he’s been missing in action for fifty years. His journals record his harrowing sixteen months in Vietnam. Robin determines to find the grandfather she never knew before her grandmother’s memories fade.
Twisting between the sounds of war in 1969 Vietnam and the domestic scenes of 2019 Houston, The Broken Hallelujah follows a quest to discover the truth, heal the wounds of the past, and rebuild a life of hope for the future.
Martin’s journals tell how a rigidly truthful man grows to embrace his team and the people in a small Vietnamese village. The horrors of war color Martin’s sixteen months in country. He goes to war with a black and white world view and ultimately finds that there are many shades of gray on both sides of the conflict.
Robin returns to Houston to start again. Recently divorced from her cheating husband, she leaves everything behind, including her job and supposed friends. Now she wants to care for her grandmother, diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s. When Martin's footlocker shows up, it brings home the fifty-year-old mystery of him missing in action.
Robin is determined to find answers to how and why Martin was MIA. Her greatest wish is to find him and bring him home while his Susanna, her grandmother, is still able to find solace and closure in his homecoming.
Finding help from friends and family, including her best friend, Maryam; an investigative photojournalist, Brian; and even Greg, her hated ex-husband, Robin enlists a band of Vietnam vets who are determined that no man be left behind. This rag tag team travels from Houston to San Francisco and eventually to the jungles of Vietnam for answers to bring a soldier home to the honor he deserves. In the process, Robin learns much about herself and how to move toward her own future.
The box Robin finds in Martin’s footlocker does exist. I received it from my fiancé’s brother as I began writing The Broken Hallelujah. TJ left the box with his brother, Phil, after returning from Vietnam. One more serendipitous moment in the writing of this story. TJ died in 2002, more than 30 years after his service. But he left an intriguing story of refusing his commission because he was lied to by the recruiter. And so Martin’s story began.
When I opened the elaborately carved box, much like Robin and Susanna, I found the battered book of Irish poems, TJ’s insignia and patches. an old zippo lighter, and a handful of 3x4 black and white photos.
Martin’s journals came as the story unfolded, but they were born in the reality of TJ’s Vietnam Box.
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