Magazine article The Spectator

Thirty Years On

Magazine article The Spectator

Thirty Years On

Article excerpt

Uncommon Enemy by Alan Judd Simon & Schuster, £18.99, pp. 349, ISBN 9781847397737

One of the pleasures of Alan Judd's books is their sheer variety. His work includes biographies of Ford Madox Ford and Sir Mansfield Cummings, the first head of what became MI6, as well as nine novels, many of which have little in common with each other apart from unflashy but elegant prose. The Devil's Own Work, for example, is a brilliant novella, almost a fable, that explores the fatal temptation of a novelist and the relationship between art and success. Another, The Kaiser's Last Kiss, shows us both the Third Reich and the elderly Kaiser Wilhelm in a wholly unexpected light.

Three of Judd's novels, however, have both a protagonist and certain themes in common. Charles Thoroughgood, whose career has similarities with his creator's, is an Oxford graduate, army officer, intelligence officer and author. He appears in Judd's first novel, A Breed of Heroes, published in 1981, shortlisted for the Booker Prize and filmed by the BBC; it has now been reissued (Simon & Schuster, £7.99).

At this point he is a second lieutenant serving in a battalion of the Army Assault Commandos and posted to Northern Ireland. The story is simply an account of a fourmonth tour of duty in Armagh and Belfast.

In the process, Charles changes. Increasingly he acquires a sort of moral detachment that leads him to actions he would not previously have considered and, finally, to his decision to leave the army.

The novel's strength is its simplicity. It's a young man's book, full of recent and partly digested experience, and none the worse for that. We see the Troubles solely through Charles's eyes. Judd does not sanitise or simplify his subject; nor does he make facile judgments. But he does leave his readers with a considerable respect for the army's professionalism and an understanding of the difficult job it was obliged to do.

After a gap of 20 years, Char les Thoroughgood returned in Legacy (2001;

also reissued by Simon & Schuster, £7.99), which was billed as the first of an espionage trilogy. The story is set around 1980. Having left the army, Charles has joined MI6 and is undergoing training as an agent. He is summoned to play a more active role when his employers discover that Charles was at Oxford with a KGB officer, Koslove, now been posted to London and having an affair with a superior prostitute. Charles's job is to offer Koslove the chance of coming over.

But the matter soon develops into something far more disturbing that forces Charles to delve into his own past in pursuit of a secret that threatens both his own certainties and Britain's security. …

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