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'Full Dress Gray' a Return to West Point 30 Years Later

October 20, 1998|MICHELLE WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

I was reading the sequel to a book that I could clearly remember reading when it was published 19 years ago, and I was having a problem:

I couldn't help but feel a little long in the tooth.

But then I remembered the words of my mother when I bought the musical "Oklahoma!" on video: "Oh, yes. I remember when that was on Broadway!" And suddenly I felt better.

The book is "Full Dress Gray" (William Morrow & Co., 384 pages, $25), the follow-up to Lucian K. Truscott IV's 1979 bestseller "Dress Gray." That novel, which takes place in 1969, is about about the murder of a gay cadet at West Point, where, when they asked, you were supposed to tell but didn't, and prayed that your lie didn't come back to bite you on the butt.

The hero of "Dress Gray" is Cadet Rysam Slaight, who solves the murder. In the sequel, he is back at present-day West Point as the superintendent. In the intervening 30 years, he has managed to marry the dead cadet's sister, Sam, and they have a daughter named Jacey, who, carrying on the tradition of her father and uncle, is a West Point cadet.

And now it's the kid's turn to solve the mysterious death of a fellow cadet during a parade. Did she die because she was trussed up in full dress gray on one of the hottest days of the year? Did she die because women just can't cut it at West Point? Or were there other reasons? Don't wrack your brain too much. There are other reasons.

Jacey is out to find the responsible party (with help from her boyfriend, the delightfully named Ashford Prudhomme). Naturally, there are those who are not crazy about them poking around.

*

When I was done reading "Dress Gray" in 1979, I was a bit disappointed. On the whole, I liked it, but I thought: That's it? One cadet is murdered? Case solved? You have to remember that it was the time of "Star Wars." If books and movies didn't have shooting lasers, big honking spaceships, studly fighter pilots and an evil ruler with a bad case of bronchitis, well, why bother?

But as the years passed, I reread "Dress Gray" and came to appreciate it for what it is--a pretty good novel. So too is its sequel.

Don't pick up "Full Dress Gray" expecting John Grisham Goes to West Point. Sure, there are lots of unsavory characters, but you won't find countless deaths, plots and subplots. The hero does not overcome Everestian odds to get to the truth. Sometimes space aliens or a dead body on every other page aren't required to make a book gripping.

Once again Truscott (himself a West Point grad and son of a colonel) provides the reader with a keen insider's view, packed with you-are-there detail of academy-military life. He has come through with a perfect summer-fall-winter-spring read.

I only wish he had stayed away from using a computer to unearth some clues. That is so 1995. I also could have done without the DNA stuff. Equally tired.

Still, the book has plenty of old-fashioned police work, old-fashioned crime with a modern twist (think: The Club) and old-fashioned love (boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl). Perfect for a geezerette like me.

I'm looking forward to Truscott's novel 19 years from now. It'll probably be called "Really Full Dress Gray." Let's see. It's 2017 and a West Point grad named Jacey Slaight-Prudhomme is elected president of the United States, and of course, there is a murder in the White House. . . .

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