Intricate, heartrending, and morally urgent, Ranger Games is a crime story like no other
Alex Blum was a good kid with one unshakeable goal in life: Become a U.S. Army Ranger. On the day of his leave before deployment to Iraq, Alex got into his car with two fellow soldiers and two strangers, drove to a local bank in Tacoma, and committed armed robbery.
The question that haunted the entire Blum family was: Why?Why would he ruin his life in such a spectacularly foolish way?
At first, Alex insisted he thought the robbery was just another exercise in the famously daunting Ranger program. His attorney presented a case based on the theory that the Ranger indoctrination mirrored that of a cult.
In the midst of his own personal crisis, and in the hopes of helping both Alex and his splintering family cope, Ben Blum, Alex’s first cousin, delved into these mysteries, growing closer to Alex in the process. As he probed further, Ben began to question not only Alex, but the influence of his superior, Luke Elliot Sommer, the man who planned the robbery. A charismatic combat veteran, Sommer’s manipulative tendencies combined with a magnetic personality lured Ben into a relationship that put his loyalties to the test.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Violence, Drugs, Alcohol
Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
This debut work is a stunningly well-executed examination of one man’s abrupt fall into disgrace and another man’s fascination with that fall. The men (one, a gung-ho U.S. Army Ranger on his way to Iraq in 2006; the other, the author of this book) grew up together as cousins in Colorado. The defining moment for author Blum’s cousin Alex, and for this wrenching book, was Alex’s sudden and seemingly inexplicable involvement in a bank robbery on the verge of his being shipped to Iraq, a moment that blew up his life and those of his relatives. Blum spent seven years puzzling out this act, interviewing Alex, family members, and friends. He also investigates the Ranger culture that instills blind obedience, and the evil influence that one special-operations commander held over Alex. The result is a well-researched, spellbinding work of narrative nonfiction that opens up the psychology of Ranger training, as well as giving the reader a compassionate view of the interlocking forces that can feed into one spectacularly bad decision.
Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2017)
A vigorous, empathetic chronicle of a crime foretold—or at least engendered, possibly, on a boot camp drill field.Though the mostly peace-minded citizens of Tacoma, Washington, may not know it, the military-industrial complex looms large there, with a joint Air Force and Army base constituting the area’s largest employer by far. Blum tells the story of a group of four soldiers, including the author’s cousin, Alex, who donned blue jeans and ski masks and tried to boost a bank. The news of the subsequent arrest shocked the respectable, intellectually competitive Blum family. “Alex was the most squeaky-clean, patriotic, rule-respecting kid we knew,” writes the author, who digs into the case to tease out why an Army Ranger, part of a unit already under the spotlight for having tortured prisoners in Iraq, did something so transgressive. Among the theories the legal defense tested, he finds the notion that the heist was the result of a kind of brainwashing to be somewhat compelling, while the thought that the robbery was a training exercise isn’t as absurd as it might appear on the face: “As far as Alex was concerned,” one of his fellow soldiers says, “it wasn’t real.” In time, Blum looks closely at a charismatic leader who cooked up the scheme as an exercise in sociopathy and convinced his comrades to take part because it was cool and fun. “With him,” writes the author, memorably, “you could become Donkey Kong or Cobra Commander or Wile E. Coyote, swallowing a pound of TNT and exploding and reconstituting again in time to pant so hard at a passing pretty girl that your tongue spilled out onto the floor.” In the end, Blum writes, judge and jury did not accept any such Looney Tunes scenario, and how they arrived at their verdict affords the author some fine courtroom back and forth. A lighthearted romp à la Ocean’s Eleven it’s not, but Blum’s well-wrought account suggests that any crime is possible so long as it’s made out to be a game.
About the Author
Ben Blum was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. He holds a PhD in computer science from the University of California Berkeley, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and an MFA in fiction from New York University, where he was awarded the New York Times Foundation Fellowship.
He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and stepdaughter. His website is www.benblumauthor.com
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