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The Good Lieutenant

3.25 based on 130 ratings & 30 reviews on


Whitney Terrell's remarkable novel of the Iraq War, The Good Lieutenant, literally starts with a bang, as an operation led by Lieutenant Emma Fowler goes spectacularly wrong. Men are dead - one, a young Iraqi, by her hand. Others of the casualties were soldiers in her platoon. And the signals officer, Dixon Pulowski. Pulowski is another story entirely - Fowler and Pulowski have been lovers since they first met at Fort Riley in Kansas . . .

From this conflagration, The Good Lieutenant unspools backward in time as Fowler and her platoon are guided into disaster by suspect informants and questionable intelligence, their very mission the consequence of a previous snafu in which an American soldier had been kidnapped by insurgents. We hear the voice of Lieutenant Fowler but also those of jaded career soldiers and Iraqis both innocent and not so innocent. Ultimately, as all these stories unravel, Terrell reveals what can happen when good intentions destroy, experience distorts, and survival becomes everything.

In the media

The Good Lieutenant’s impersonation of an onion being unpeeled works to powerful effect . . . For Terrell’s characters, war has determined that life itself is essentially unreliable. That he has turned this into fiction at once compelling and sensitive, dramatic and intelligent, is impressive indeed.
The National
Devastating . . . Superb: [Terrell's] dialogue, his prose, the humane sorrow that suffuses his observations . . . Startlingly original . . . [The Good Lieutenant] might be the best work of fiction the Bush wars have produced so far.
Guardian US
[The Good Lieutenant] steadily infuses its characters with depth and humanity and lays out the dubious intelligence and errors that led them to catastrophe . . . Powerful and sometimes heartbreaking.
New Statesman