The Junior Officers' Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey Allen Lane HK$240 The title is something of a decoy. Literature was not the primary focus of Patrick Hennessey's exploits in the British Army in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan in the mid-2000s. The subtitle, Killing Time and Fighting Wars, is more to the point. This bravura slice of autobiography, partly based on e-mails the author sent to friends while undergoing officer training at Sandhurst and while he was on active service with the Grenadier Guards, makes for fluent and gripping reading. The mock perils of facing off a drill instructor and coping with mounting guard at Buckingham Palace are soon sidelined by the reality of going to war, first in Europe, later in the Middle East (genesis of the reading club formed by Hennessey and his fellow subalterns) and finally in Afghanistan. Reading Club is no political tract, but a twentysomething's portrait of military life in the new millennium that goes behind media news clips. There is a strong element of reality TV to the narrative, and the text is larded with references to popular films and shows. Hennessey's qualities as a leader shine through the book. Plainly devoted to the soldiers he commands, he is also fond of the raggle-taggle Afghan National Army with whom his unit is nominally working. The descriptions of battles, close friends being wounded and evacuated by helicopter, and Hennessey's own brush with death are rendered with immediacy, not a trace of vainglory, and tremendous passion for the job. Military memoirs have a reputation for bordering on dull. Reading Club is captivating, not least for the author's choice turn of phrase, sense of perspective and sense of humour. Just before he flies back to Britain at the end of his tour of duty, Hennessey's Afghan commander assures him that he will return to fight again, saying, 'They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.' Hennessey has since resigned his commission and is studying to become a barrister. But such is his manifest enjoyment of every facet of army life that even the most dispassionate reader is forced to wonder whether the attraction of the courtroom might pale before long.