Georgia has been reading Black Entry by Regis P Sheehan
Black Entry is a fictionalised account of Project Tiger, the CIA’s clandestine efforts to penetrate North Vietnam with indigenous (largely South Vietnamese) agent teams in the early 1960s.
There is a main character by the name of Jay Laird, nicknamed Jayhawk by his friends, and there’s a small cast of other characters around him but the real core of this book is all about Project Tiger. Laird was expecting to have a steady job safely behind a desk as his first posting, however due to a last minute personnel change he finds himself sending teams into the hostile lands of North Vietnam then waiting to see if they are ever heard from again. They are frequently not but even if they are their intelligence is often treated with suspicion and as though it’s been compromised.
As with the military there are plenty of acronyms in this book but fear not as they are explained, with reminders, along the way. Although fictionalised this feels very much like a factual account of this mission and I think it will interest anyone who enjoys reading about this period of history or military fiction in general.
Jenni has been reading Black Entry by Regis P. Sheehan.
Regis P. Sheehan’s Black Entry is unlike any military novel I have ever read.
Admittedly, that’s not a terribly long list, glossy airport thrillers that spend too many lines describing the hero’s gun and other gear, or the brotherhood of the battalion, aren’t usually high on my list, but I’ve read enough to know the genre, and Black Entry isn’t one of them.
Based on Project Tiger, a real Central Intelligence Agency operation intended to infiltrate and influence the North Vietnamese in the first half of the 1960s, Black Entry does technically have a protagonist, but I’m not sure I’d call him the “main character”. Our protagonist, and our introduction to Saigon and the clandestine CIA operations therein is Jay Laird, Jayhawk to his friends, a Kansas boy fresh off “The Farm”, or the CIA’s Virginia training facility. Jayhawk wasn’t supposed to be running covert ops out of a blandly named cover building, but last-minute personnel shifts have changed his mission and instead of sitting cozy in the US Embassy for his first assignment, our main man is training and dropping Vietnamese infiltration teams into hostile territory under cover of darkness and praying they survive long enough to send back useful intelligence.
And that, dear readers, is the main character of this novel – Project Tiger itself, or at least the American side of Project Tiger. Once the teams parachute out of the plane, we (the readers) never hear from them again. But on the American side of things, we follow Jayhawk and his increasing frustration with a futile effort, his supervisor Jim Koval, his sponsor Paul Sarpi, his bodyguard Xiao Lin, and a half dozen other minor characters all working on some level towards making Project Tiger work.
Less a war story, or a spy story, and more of a human story, Black Entry gives readers snapshots of this operation spread over the course of two years. This is a series of vignettes, almost as much as it is a novel. Just events that are caused by, and happen to, Jayhawk and those who surround him in the tangled mess that was conflict-era Saigon.
Written with the kind of tradecraft details you’d want from a novel about a CIA influence operation, but without the slavering pages and pages of details that you get in some spy novels, Black Entry strikes a nice balance in that regard. There’s also the tantalizing fact that Sheehan is former US Diplomatic Security Service, the kind of career where a man might here all sorts of fun stories about what was really going on in Vietnam above and beyond the copious research he obviously did for this novel.
Engrossing and fast paced, Black Entry isn’t your typical, self-aggrandizing military novel. There’s something honest and raw in Sheehan’s portrayal of Jayhawk and the organization he represents and for that, if nothing else, this novel is definitely worth the read.
This is a fictionalized account of “Project Tiger”, which was an operation spanning 1962 and 1963 in which the CIA inserted numerous indigenous agent teams into North Vietnam for the purposes of espionage, sabotage and other special operations. It also relates the story to earlier CIA operations in which similar efforts were made to drop agents in Communist East Europe – with similar results.