I would have liked to have said at the top of this review that the debut novel of Matthew Eck, The Farther Shore, is a real hidden gem, but it really isn’t. But it really is just a well-written novel whose themes, setting and style have all been improved on greatly with a number of higher profile publications. It may have been one of the first novels to discuss, in depth, war after 9/11 when it came out in 2007, but since then, almost ten years ago, we have had novels like The Yellow Birds and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, brilliant, subversive pieces that are wholly original fictional accounts of an ongoing war that leave this 172 page novel in the dust. I don’t dispute that it is accurate, since Eck served in the military, or it’s straightforward quality, unadorned by literary pyrotechnics, but in 2015, I have seen this done better. The setup is simple, a quartet of soldiers are stationed in coastal Africa and are separated from the rest of their unit. They are a young, scared group of soldiers, which is a volatile mix going through a hostile area, hoping to make it out alive. It is short, but Eck really gives each of them an identity, even if they are vastly similar. This isn’t a boring book, but as I keep saying, simply one I have seen a million times not only in print but on the big screen as well. One character is described as a deeply religious virgin, so you know what is going to happen to him. And towards the end, there is a scene involving desert spiders that is way too similar to scene in All Quiet on the Western Front involving rats and shovels. Even with a surprising brutal twist at the end, it was hard not to think of better books while I was reading this one that came to the party a little to early.