A Breed of Heroes

February 19th, 2009 at 11:21 pm David Frum | No Comments |

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A Breed of Heroes is a war novel, but of a very unusual kind. It is set in Northern Ireland at the beginning of the Troubles. The protagonist, Charles Thoroughgood, is an over-educated Oxford graduate who joined the military in search of comradeship and connection with other human beings. Commissioned a lieutenant, he finds himself cast into a situation of paralyzing boredom, pointless cruelties, and fathomless hatred. When he recognizes a (Catholic) child injured by playing with a pipebomb abandoned by the IRA, the mother tells him that she would rather see her child bleed to death than rescued by the Army. 

There are few heroics in this book – except for the heroism required to endure a commanding officer who regards gravy as a crime against humanity, or commissary officers who reject as willful extravagance requests for new socks to replace those stained beyond recovery in operations in the sewers.

The novel climaxes in a great comic setpiece.

A huge cache of arms are discovered during an unauthorized surreptitious search of a monastery. The chief monk threatens the officer in charge: We will publicly denounce this violation of the sanctity of Church property. The officer suavely parries: Of course it is unthinkable that any of the monks might be implicated in terrorism, but conditions being as they are, we fear that not all sections of the northern Irish community will be as understanding – indeed, many might regard the Catholic Church as having authorized the terrorism. 

 The elaborate negotiation by which the monk and the officer agree on a lie that preserves the bogus innocence of all  parties is a moment of literary genius.

The author of the book, writing under the name Alan Judd, is a former soldier and diplomant with extensive experience of some of Britain’s most daunting security challenges. He has followed this first novel, published in 1993, with a clutch more, and I look forward to reading all of them. 

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Johnnnymac66

    I’ve lived all of my 51 years in Chicago. I learned world politics by reading Gigi Geyer, Evans & Novak, George Will, and many, many others. I learned Chicago politics by reading Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, and many others.
    For me, the tipping point with Evans came when he “outted” Valerie Plame, a crime I believe was treasonous. I wrote him and told him exactly that, and was not surprised when I received no response.
    From that point on, I’d glance at his columns, but never again believed anything in them.
    When Hunter Thompson would inject himself into the stories he was writing, it was funny. Outting an undercover CIA operative because of a personal grudge wasn’t at all funny.
    I still believe Robert Evans committed treason against the United States.

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Novak comes off as a sort of American, Jewish-cum-Catholic verson of Evelyn Waugh: nasty, vindictive and palpably self loathing. But he wasn’t unpatriotic. Moreover, he was correct about the War on Terror and Iraq. Compare his foreign policy views to David Frum’s, and then tell me: who comes out looking better on the geopolitics of the past decade?

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    Oh, and by the way Frum, you’d fail your mother-in-law’s course, too: it’s ABC 20/20, not “NBC 20/20.”

  • lolapowers

    Mr Frum, I so wholeheartedly agree with you, Novak was indeed a dark soul !

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