Brotherhood needs a hero

HEROIC by Phil Earle

Reviewed by Martin Chilton

PHIL Earle divides the action in his new novel Heroic between a gang-ridden tough housing estate and war-torn Afghanistan. It’s sometimes hard to tell which holds the greater danger.

It’s the war zone, of course, and the scenes in Afghanistan are gritty and vivid as Earle evokes the curious mix of terror and excitement a young soldier, one seeing the world outside an estate for the first time, must surely feel.

“I was buzzing so hard it was like being plugged into a socket,” army recruit Jamm McGann said.

McGann’s experience is at the core of the book along with the troubled life, back in England, of his younger brother, Sonny.

The siblings have a fiercely close and loving bond, yet their relationship is complex, full of rivalries and frustrations.

On Sonny falls the burden of having “a lot to live up to”; on Jamm falls the responsibility of repeatedly rescuing his brother from scrapes.

But the tables are turned when Jamm comes back from Afghanistan. He has been through an experience that makes no sense and is traumatised by a place where something as simple as a kickaround with a football can be deadly.

No wonder he returns a depressed and volatile man.

Sonny is a well-drawn, believable rogue, who has learnt how to survive by being streetwise.

He has also kept a secret from his brother. He has begun a love affair with Cam – a strong and interesting character throughout the book. Both brothers have fallen for the same girl.

The banter is blunt and the violence, when it comes, is short, sharp and believable. We see how easy it is for a haunted mind to lose control.

Earle paces the book well and, although the revelations are painful, there is some hope, too.Earle, whose two previous books, Being Billy and Saving Daisy, were excellent, tips a big nod in the acknowledgements to some of the inspirations for this book: our armed forces, SE Hinton’s classic, The Outsiders, and even Bruce Springsteen’s moving track, Terry’s Song.

But Heroic is a success because Earle has taken all these elements, and created an engrossing and deeply sympathetic tale of people in trouble. – Daily Telegraph

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