History seems unlikely to applaud the UK's military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade and a half. The human cost for those who have served Queen and country in those campaigns has been terrible, both in terms of the men and women who have been killed, and those who have been injured. "The Last Tour of Archie Forbes" by Victoria Hendry brings home forcibly the truth that not all injuries are obvious: that those afflicted by the mental scars following their experience of war are as deserving of care and support as those afflicted by the physical scars.
Archie Forbes had a high flying career as a corporate lawyer in Edinburgh, and he had a loving wife who was due to give birth to their first child. But he was also a volunteer in the Territorial Army and as a result he served as a lieutenant in Afghanistan. He returned from his tour of duty damaged by the experience, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and his whole world fell to pieces as a result. We encounter Archie living rough in Edinburgh and depending on the handouts of charities and the very few friends he has left. His behaviour is challenging and his problems interacting on a "normal" basis with those around him appear to be getting worse rather than better. As a result his lifestyle is becoming steadily more chaotic and his prospects ever poorer. But then a bizarre stroke of fortune opens up a possible new avenue of opportunity for him. Has he been handed a lifeline by fate? It seems not, because through no fault of his own this quickly turns him into a man on the run from the police.
Victoria Hendry's portrayal of a man suffering from PTSD is utterly compelling and absolutely convincing. A simple description of the book's contents may not make it stand out as the most immediately appealing read you will find on the bookshop shelves, but that overlooks just how very important the story being told is to the world we live in today, and to our apparently increasingly uncaring society. Will Archie ever be able to find a way of rediscovering the man he once was? And just what was the experience that pushed him over the edge? As we follow Archie's efforts to deal with the world around him, the reader is immersed in an existence that is both utterly alien to many of us, yet at the same time as close and familiar as the real life ex-soldier sitting on a corner of Edinburgh's Princes Street with a begging bowl and a piece of cardboard on which he's written his story.