J. Max Taylor was an Army “intelligence editor” based in Korea but was called into Vietnam (and Laos and Cambodia) for difficult, behind-enemy-lines missions. In Inside the World of Mirrors: The Story of a Shadow Warrior (Authorhouse, 150 pp., $27.99, hardcover, $16.95, paper) Taylor gives blow-by-blow accounts of about a dozen harrowing missions in which he was called upon to do dangerous undercover work, including assassinations.
On one mission, Taylor and his small team were directed to assassinate a Chinese bigwig inspecting NVA training facilities. They were successful. Even more intriguing is how Taylor and his men escaped afterward, when the enemy knew they were near.
J. Max Taylor
To do so, Taylor relied heavily on Montagnard scouts as point men. He hid during the day, sleeping on his stomach because he was less likely to snore in that position. He describes moving around enemy patrols at night, inch by inch, with every piece of equipment taped to muffle sound. And he learned how to take out sentries silently.
On a similar mission inside Cambodia, things didn’t go well, and Taylor watched as his men were picked off one by one. Though Taylor never really characterizes his fellow soldiers, you can feel his agony when they die, and his resentment over what often turned out to be futile, senseless missions.
Taylor was eventually mustered out because of a severe injury he incurred in Germany. He doesn’t go into details about the injury, but it sidelined him for a long time. And then his nightmares started. He’d killed a lot of men, watched as a lot of friends died, and had little sense of the big picture. In large part, Taylor wrote this book to exorcise his demons.
After Vietnam, Taylor took on Cold War missions in Romania, northern Ireland, Libya, and the Basque country of Spain—even the Vatican. These accounts read less like jungle warfare than spy stories. His fascinating tale of “the troubles” in northern Ireland, for example, with the understated title “A Visit to an Irish Pub,” is almost a classic stake-out.
Taylor is not a great writer, but he could be. Once he gets his logistics out of the way, he describes each mission with precision and objectivity, and he’s riveting. Would-be thriller writers should take a look.