This is a very thin book, only 167 pps, but a compelling one. It is the story of one man growing up and opens with a Sea King being shot down over Afghanistan.
- GG Carey
The main character is someone who spent a lot of time trying to find out what his role in life is. Born in Edinburgh with one brother, the family move to Fife as the father’s job moves. Like many other youngsters, he finds settling in to school in a new area difficult, gets into scrapes, does not do greatly academically and generally has a shit boyhood. Into his teens his parents split up and the mother and boys move to the USA where their mother has obtained a job. Yet more new schools, this time in a different country and with different sports to play. While his brother does well at these new sports and gets a scholarship to College, John and his mother return to Edinburgh where he gets the academical qualifications required for university and eventually graduates with a BA in Business Administration. Now he moves into the really boring part of his life, getting a job in an insurance company as a ‘customer support service technician’:- has his own house, three bedrooms with just him in it, a Ford Mondeo (this is 1991) but no real woman in his life, just the passing girlfriends. Commuting, working, going to the pub; he is bored out of his skull. And to be honest this is a boring part of the book which nearly saw it being launched.
Waiting in a queue in a sandwich bar for his lunch one day when he is forced to share a table with three women. Usual boy-girl, girl/boy stuff ensues and John has himself a girlfriend. Life is getting better but John being John messes this up by gong to an international rugby game at Murrayfield, watching Scotland lose to Australia (yeah, like that would happen!!) getting absolutely shit-faced then crawling into bed with the wrong women, not something that pleases his girlfriend, Sheri. They split.
Now this has been really boring, well not as interesting as could be but very close to real life, but is necessary for the second part of the book which makes for much better reading. Not that I am saying the first part is badly written, just depressingly normal! Anyway, John is now girlfriendless, bored with his job and decides to change his life so applies to become a pilot in the Royal Navy.
This is a bit where I feel the author has missed a chance to give us a larger book without detracting in any way from the main character’s story, in fact I would suggest that it would enhance it. The story misses completely the process of leaving civilian life, training to become a Naval officer and learning to fly helicopters.
The story re-opens nine years later in Afghanistan with John a fully established member of the crew, in the process of being shot down! The incident is well written and the reader is easily drawn to the scene by the writing. John is seriously injured and medevaced back to Camp Bastion where he is operated on. What he does not know is that Sheri had now trained as a nurse and had volunteered to go to Afghanistan and was assisting in the operation. She recognises John but he is out of it so does now know Sheri is in the surgical team. Back to UK goes John to recuperate and get himself back into flying. Still being a single man, beer plays a large part in his life and his recovery involves plenty of beer, but many of his fellow aircrew are now married and he feels more and more isolated, even though he is a popular member of the Squadron. Long story short and so as not to give away anything from the book, John goes off in search of Sheri, who has returned to civiliannursing, and vice versa eventually meeting, yet finding both have changed – neither has married. John is left now with the choices of returning once fit to the Navy or......well that is the end of the tale and I will leave it to you to see what his decision was.
The book sounds very much like a bit of a biog, indeed the author moved along a similar path to John but from the opposite direction. He was born in the USA, joined the USMC at 17 but later came to Scotland to get educated at St Andrew’s University before returning to the USA to join the US Navy to train as a pilot.
This is a strange yet compulsive book in which I feel the author has probably missed a good opportunity to fill out with the missing nine years. That may because he was trained US style and did not want to trip up over Royal Navy training methods and such. Whatever reason, I enjoyed this book. Like many war stories it is a tale of love during war. I give this 3.5 Mr MRHs purely as I have that feeling of something missed – otherwise a cracking story.