Army sharpshooter and deserter Cooper Chance is trapped. Recruited from Iraq to fight in an African country ravaged by a chronic civil war, Cooper wants nothing more than to go home. Unfortunately, the only thing awaiting him in America is jail, and Cooper is acutely claustrophobic. Whether he likes it or not, he now leads the life of a mercenary, in a gritty world filled with thugs, prostitutes, and corrupt cops. To survive his desperate circumstances, Cooper trades diamonds. One day he wanders into a diamond shop, where he meets Sadiq, a young merchant as lost in the world as he is. As they fall in love, Cooper has no idea Sadiq has ulterior motives. Meanwhile huge oil reserves are discovered nearby, and the CIA offers Cooper a way home without jail time if he agrees to carry out a risky, high-stakes mission. Cooper will do anything to get home-except sell his soul to the devil. But when a teenage prostitute he has promised to save suddenly disappears, Cooper finally relents. Unfortunately, he has no idea that unexpected consequences await.
Review: Cooper’s Promise is an extremely well-written story. From the very first page I was drawn to Cooper’s life in Lalanga, a fictional Middle Eastern country where he is stranded thanks to some unknown trouble. That trouble is never explained in the story, only that while his Blackwing buddies are allowed to fly home, he opts to remain for fear of being thrown in jail upon his arrival stateside.
While in Lalanga, he develops a big brother-type relationship with one of the local prostitutes, Lulay, and this is where Cooper really shines. He does his best to protect her from rough clients and VD and promises to get her out of her situation. But what appealed to me in this relationship was that he never took advantage – he remained the big brother to her little sister, making promises he wanted to keep but didn’t know if he could.
He also developed a friendship with, Sadiq, the son of his diamond-buyer. It is almost sweet how he sees the boy as a potential friend in his land-without-friends. At the same time, he is so desperate for that friendship that he resorts to plotting on how to “accidentally” run into Sadiq and it almost borders on stalking.
The youth had been behind Cooper’s every thought since they met. They could be friends, he was sure of it, and Langatown might be bearable if he had a friend. He wouldn’t hound him, though; he wouldn’t make that mistake with Sadiq.
The country of Lalanga is so well-depicted that I actually had to look it up to see if it was some minor country that I had missed in all the geographical changes that have taken place in the MidEast these past few years. The heat, the squalor, kids stealing anything left alone for more than a few seconds, the two warring factions and villagers trying not to get caught in between… all are so well described that I had to wonder where Smith got his information. It turns out he lived it, and it shows so clearly in his writing.
Smith takes on third-world uncleanliness and destitution, guerrilla coups, blood diamonds, prostitution and human trafficking. While the core of the story is Cooper and his relationships with both Lulay and Sadiq, it is the underlying stories – the ones that go by quickly on one page or continue through most of the book – that are the real heartbeat of the tale. The auntie who runs the junk shop and sells him back his own stolen belongings. The kids who steal his clothes while he is swimming. The just-killed man being mugged of his belongings by two old women. These are stories of a country most of us will never see but it becomes vivid and tangible in Smith’s words.
I do have to warn you – this is not an HEA book. You might even cry. (I did.) But somehow this ending is the only one that makes sense. I would love to see this book done as a movie, if it is done right (and isn’t that always the key?).