Book reviews: Follow me Home and Wish you Were Here

Follow Me Home
Patrick Bishop (Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99)

The war in Afghanistan is tailormade for a novel and Patrick Bishop, better known as a writer of non-fiction, has taken full advantage with his excellent Follow Me Home, the title taken from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, who knew a thing or two about the region. The book centres around the relationship between two officers and friends, Milo (the narrator) and Zac, who have been sent on a mission to ambush and capture a notorious Taliban leader. Of course, the mission goes horribly wrong and the hunters become the hunted as, with a prisoner and a burkha-clad young woman in tow, they attempt to cross 35 miles of enemy territory to the safety of Camp Longdon.

Mr Bishop is more concerned with characterisation than plot, and his many years of familiarity with British soldiers, first as a war correspondent and then as a chronicler of contemporary war, enable him to flesh out the lead characters in a highly convincing manner. Milo, the second in command, is very much the reluctant soldier who only joined because his father and grandfather had served before him. ‘I realised now,’ he confesses early in the book, ‘that long familiarity with the army had steered me close to contempt for its ways.’

Zac is from a non-military background, but, like many late converts, has taken to army life with gusto, embracing its traditions and striving to be the best. But there is more to soldiering than a gung-ho, can-do attitude and Zac’s inherent lack of leadership qualities and judgement soon find him out. Will Milo step up when needed? Will the decision to take along the Taliban captive prove a mistake? Read it and enjoy a novel of great subtlety and insight; one that explores the age-old themes of loyalty, humanity and forgiveness, and that you finish feeling strangely optimistic about the future.