Dr Horatio Lestoq is brilliant, a starred Double First at Oxford. He is now a 29-year-old academic and freelance journalist and the bee in his current bonnet is that Referendum. He's doing a series of articles on it, and he is contacted by 90-year-old Admiral Ratcliffe, Chief Scrutineer all those years ago for the South-West region. The old boy has something of Vital Importance to tell Horatio, and he must come down and hear it.
He goes, discovers the Admiral dead and works out that he is in the frame for the murder. However, the Admiral made a tape of his confession (the Aachen Memorandum) which proves that the Referendum was rigged by our Evil Rulers, and Horatio, released from jail, is looking for a way to get the tape to King William, who is, coincidentally, on his first visit to England region in 30 years.
Andrew Roberts is a historian who took a First at Oxford, and this is his first novel. He seems to think that he is writing a futuristic dystopic thriller. In fact the book is a splenetic satire on Europhilia, and Roberts gives the game away when he starts awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Gerry Adams and celebrating Hitler and Mussolini as early visionaries of a united Europe. It begins to smack of desperation when he beatifies John Redwood: "At 72, the grand old man of antifederalism." I doubt that John Redwood will be much remembered 50 years from now: we would have forgotten him already if he was not always showing up on Clive Anderson Talks Back.
Half-baked the novel may be, but it is very entertaining. Imagine that Alan Coren had written Nineteen Eighty-Four. As Horatio is drawn further and further into the ERM (English Resistance Movement), he rediscovers his heritage: "Britain, as opposed to North England, Wales, Scotland sounded unfamiliar to him. Strange, romantic and somehow right." Patriotism stirs in his lion heart. He begins to see how wrong it is for Brussels to fix our speed limits and make us ashamed of smoking. There is an exciting whiff of incest when it turns out that gorgeous Cleo, whom he met at a party, may be his sister. Roberts tells us that Horatio is brilliant, but he is awfully slow on the uptake, even for an Oxford graduate.
The trouble is that this stuff is very easy to write. The Houses of Parliament have been turned into the Westminster Heritage Amenity and Leisuredrome; the pub which used to be called The Hare and Hounds is now The Free Fox. Rabid and very contemporary Euroscepticism and sniping at political correctness threaten to swamp the narrative.
The novel winds up with a series of twists which lost me, but this did not spoil my pleasure in the book. I liked it no end, but I'm not entirely sure that Andrew Roberts would enjoy my enjoying it.Reuse content