Ben Blum’s story of an Army Ranger’s involvement in a bank robbery is an uncompromising search for the truth and a stirring testament to the healing power of writing.

In August 2007, Alex Blum had attained his lifelong dream of becoming an Army Ranger and was preparing for deployment to Iraq. Instead, on the day he began his final leave before going overseas, Alex participated in a bank robbery with two other Rangers and two Canadians.

In the aftermath, the young Ranger lost his freedom and his reputation, the woman he was planning to marry and the military career he had obsessively prepared for since childhood.

Alex’s family of alpha-male jocks and real estate entrepreneurs was baffled and shaken by his actions, but none more so than his math-prodigy cousin Ben Blum. Ben, facing a crisis of his own as he turned his back on a promising career in mathematics, formed an uneasy alliance with Alex and began exploring and writing about Alex’s role in the robbery.

“Ranger Games” simultaneously delves into the events of the robbery and the resulting trials, the personalities of the participants and Alex’s own shifting, puzzling story. Initially claiming he was an unwitting getaway driver, Alex says he thought the robbery was a Ranger exercise and, later, that he was influenced by the cultlike training Rangers undergo. Alex’s trial results in a sentence of time served.

But after Alex’s release from custody, as Ben befriends his cousin and begins to try to write his story, he starts to suspect that Alex isn’t telling the whole truth, perhaps not even to himself.

As Alex’s life and the Blum family fortunes spiral downward, Ben finds himself on what is essentially a spiritual quest for the truth, examining Ranger culture and his own family’s myths and dynamics. He interviews other participants in the robbery and their families and friends, as well as some of the robbery’s victims. Finally, he falls into a relationship with Luke Elliott Sommer, the seductive, sociopathic Ranger who planned and led the robbery.

E-mailing with Sommer and meeting with him in federal prison forces Ben to confront Alex about the inconsistencies in his story, which leads to the book’s surprising and cathartic conclusion.

“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.

 

John Reimringer’s first novel, “Vestments,” was a Publishers Weekly best book of 2010. He is at work on a second novel. He lives in St. Paul.

Ranger Games
By: Ben Blum.
Publisher: Doubleday, 412 pages, $28.95.