Imran and Chris grow up as childhood blood brothers in the suburbs of a Yorkshire town. Their lives separate during adolescence, and by the time they are 18, Chris has joined the army and Imran has embraced Islamist jihad. Their paths rejoin when Chris is on his way to the barracks where he is to receive a medal after losing a leg to an IED in Afghanistan. A text from Imran discloses that a suicide bomber is heading in the same direction.
The tensions of intercultural and intergenerational strife and solidarity which both separate and unite the friends are vividly recounted through a switchbacking double series of then-and-now accounts, first person in the case of Chris, third person for Imran. The depiction of conflicted loyalties and the mundane excitements and disappointments of growing up are convincingly conveyed, and the air of authenticity is underlaid by Gibbons’ conversations with students and soldiers, acknowledged in the preface. There are, however, some Buccaneering improbabilities in the climactic sections, and the pell-mell pace of the action sometimes allows flattening clichés into the writing itself (Of an inflammatory speaker: ‘He had everyone sitting on the edge of their seats, hanging on his every word.’) In spite of this, the book presents a moving account of a friendship broken and repaired by the complications of social justice, and has relevance beyond the specific story it tells.