Right away you learn the main character is in mourning; he and his wife were in their 30s and recently married when she was killed. She had always lived in dangerous situations as a war zone journalist but was moving toward giving it up when she was killed in Pakistan by a US Hellfire Missile. After her death, he moved back to London and became very close to the family next door.
We also learn immediately that something dramatic will happen in the neighbors' house; the revelation of this begins on the first page and is doled out a few pages at a time in each chapter. I had some ideas of what this might be, but I was wrong and it is that event that made me unable to keep reading. It was such a gut punch that I had a hard time sleeping that night and only recovered my equilibrium when, after a little talk with myself, concluded I would be much happier not reading this book.
This was not an easy decision as I was so enthusiastic about the book. I loved the characters and obviously found them very real. The other element that was so appealing was the focus on drone strike operations carried out in Nevada. Well, that sounds unlikely, but it's true. Daniel had been a pilot which took him away from his young family for months at a time. He took a job in Nevada as part of a team that used drones as part of the operation of taking out targets with Hellfire missiles. By "target," I mean a person. Ultimately this did not work for him either, as he could not return to the family in the evening after being in a war zone during working hours, even though the war zone involved no danger to his person. Even with immediate feedback from troops on the ground telling him their lives were saved by his work, killing targets in this way was both too distant and too immediate in that he could see the targets die.
The chapter that describes Daniel and war at a distance was a a wonderful piece of writing that takes readers into a world we should all know about. As for the terrible event and its aftermath, well, someone else will need to comment on that.
Owen Sheers, I Saw a Man, Doubleday, 2015, 257 pages. Available at the public library and Amazon. (Why doesn't UVa have this NYT-reviewed book?)