The vast distance between war and war stories is typically filled, in books as in life, by the sort of bluster that gets people pushed onto battlefields in the first place. Accounts true to the experience line a short shelf that includes E.B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed, Paul Fussell’s Doing Battle and Neil McCallum’s Journey With a Pistol.
And now Eric Fair’s Consequence: A Memoir. Fair saw no fighting in his war, yet his book has the stifled anger and hollow feeling of remembered combat. Having left the Army before 9/11, he arrived in Iraq as a private contractor. He knew Arabic and had a yearning to be part of things. He interrogated Iraqis in plywood booths, the walls of which shook from the impact of thrown bodies. He declined work in the worst part of Abu Ghraib. But he posed beside a device that caused prisoners to pass out and soil themselves.
Consequence is Fair’s attempt to confront what he did, and failed to do. It reads like a compulsion, a bare-bones Dragnet narrative, if Detective Joe Friday were trying to find out why a man who once took refuge in church finds himself playing a Roman.
This appears in the April 25, 2016 issue of TIME.