Brace for a sentence unlikely to be repeated in the annals of literary journalism: over this novel hangs the shadow of Johnny Mercer, MP. The backbencher, a former minister and army officer, has in recent years carved out a reputation for cheerleading on behalf of long-retired British soldiers facing trial for their actions during Operation Banner, the British military’s four-decade-long deployment in Northern Ireland. Last year he used his Twitter feed to post a selfie with Dennis Hutchings, a former squaddie. The two were onboard a plane heading to Belfast, where Hutchings was facing trial for the murder in 1974 of a fleeing Catholic man with the mental age of a ten-year-old (a charge Hutchings denied before he died while the trial was ongoing). Mercer was travelling to Belfast to rally support for Hutchings, as he has done for other ex-servicemen accused of historical crimes in the province.
Mercer is the latest representative of a long tradition of armed-forces-at-any-cost Conservatives. These get a mention only a few pages into Andrew Miller’s new novel: ‘someone in Parliament, a Tory MP, worked out how many Apache attack helicopters you could buy with the millions spent on the inquiry’ into