A true crime investigation of why the author's cousin—a straight-laced young man in an elite Army Ranger battalion—chose to follow the guidance of a sociopathic superior officer and become the getaway driver in an armed robbery of a Tacoma bank.
...an uncompromising search for the truth and a stirring testament to the healing power of writing ... Ranger Games is a book that rewards a reader’s patience. The book isn’t straightforward reportage, but rather a chronicle of Ben Blum’s search for the truth behind his cousin’s baffling fall from grace. As such, the shifting chronology and contradictory stories about the robbery are sometimes hard to follow. As the book builds to its powerful conclusion, however, it becomes evident that this apparent confusion is a conscious strategy on the writer’s part, taking the reader along on the writer’s own obsessive hunt for the truth, which is buried in the multiple versions of the story concocted by the robbery’s participants, their families, the news media and the law. As such, Ranger Games is a rich and demanding exploration of the perils and rewards of truth seeking: It will repay successive readings with insight into the intricacies of the human psyche.
Ranger Games raises bedeviling questions about the nature of human agency, and reminds us that we send everyday, messy people with everyday, messy hearts to fight our wars ... Ranger Games is in part a family story, about the unlikely bond between two very different cousins. It is also a fascinating tutorial on the psychology of modern warfare and social coercion ... The tragicomic chapters about this episode alone are worth the price of the book. I spun through them, the pages whipping by like an old-school Rolodex. If you already detest Dr. Phil, they will shore up your conviction that he is indeed worth detesting. Alex’s motives may be of personal interest to Blum, but the richest case study on display here — it would fit snugly into any psychological textbook — is of Sommer. He’s brilliant, seductive and dangerous, a Hannibal Lecter without the taste for human liver over fava beans...To keep the mystery going, Blum even periodically wonders whether he should believe Sommer. It feels like a narrative feint. That Sommer is a malignant lunatic is spectacularly obvious quite early on. Blum’s book suffers, too, from a slight engineering problem. He sometimes repeats parts of Alex’s story, ostensibly to layer them with more perspectives and information each time, but the information he adds is often insufficient to warrant the retellings ... But by the book’s end — it’s both surprising and moving — readers are likely to overlook these objections.
The main question with which he grapples in this finely written and reported (but overlong) memoir is why his law-abiding cousin chose to commit a criminal act ... Determined to investigate, Blum finds it hard to get consistent answers from his cousin. So, in a surprising narrative twist, he seeks out Sommer, whom Alex's testimony had helped convict. The robbery's ringleader may well be a classic psychopath, but it's hard to know for sure. He and the Rangers both 'dressed up violence in myth and ritual' and 'normalized killing, bloodthirstiness, ruthlessness, and domination,' Blum writes. In any case, Blum's conversations with the smart, seductive Sommer shed doubt on Alex's version of events.