The truth about war – its slaughter, its unbearable stress – can be more visceral than any fiction. At first, Mark Townsend, home affairs editor of this paper, seems bent on telling a simple morality tale: young Essex warrior goes to Afghanistan, performs with distinction, comes home – and finds not much in the way of jobs or prospects awaiting him. An everyday story of MoD betrayal. But then the richness of the detail adds a quite different dimension. The Meighans have been infantry men for 300 years, from the battle of the Boyne to Balaclava to Basra. Army life is in their blood. It\'s what drove a teenage Kenny (our hero) to join the Royal Anglian Regiment and become point man for Bait Platoon in and around Helmand, the most dangerous job in the most perilous province. Kenny – diminutive, brave, instinctive – can sense an ambush in the making. His sympathetic intelligence makes him a compelling witness to encircling fear and death. And yet his vulnerability runs far wider than the flimsy body armour that fails to save one of his mates. He\'s an acute dyslexic, leaving Harwich school with just two Cs, in PE and drama. \"When I was in the army careers office (aged 14) I asked what exams I needed to join up and they said you don\'t need none.\" At 16, Kenny duly signed up: the latest of the Fighting Meighans, fulfilling his family destiny. He\'s right, in a way, to pursue this dream, because he\'s such a splendid soldier. But then, so was his father before him. Lance corporal John Meighan plays descant to this account, a veteran of Northern Ireland and Iraq. But as Kenny goes off to face the Taliban, his dad, cursed by too many nightmares of murdered compatriots, harrowed by what\'s eventually diagnosed as Gulf war syndrome, sinks in a sea of vodka and despair. He tries time and again to kill himself. He hurls fire bombs in a moment of madness and is locked in prison because no hospital places exist for him or for thousands like him. When Kenny falls in love with Samantha and leaves her pregnant, there\'s only one brutal choice he can make: he can\'t condemn her to traipse from barracks to barracks, an army wife without roots, locked in constant loneliness and apprehension. That\'s what his father inflicted on Kenny. So the point man gives it all up in a trice. But what is there to do back in Harwich for an infantry hero who can\'t read or write much? He drives buses round the same sink estates that see their most desperate sons join the army in lieu of any other opportunity. There\'s a real melancholia to this circle of renewal. One moment, you\'re somebody, lauded for your courage and initiative (by visiting prime ministers choppering in to Helmand); the next, you\'re close to what you were in the beginning – someone who flourished as his platoon came under fire but sank into listless anger and nightmares of his own when the shooting stopped. What\'s so good about Townsend\'s account – quite apart from some meticulously captured action sequences – is the way that Kenny and his dad emerge as far more than symbols. They are flesh and blood. They invite admiration as they struggle to find a new footing. Because Kenny – never mind those two Cs – is bright, he knows Afghanistan is a war that no one will want to remember, fought for reasons that change like politicians\' scripts. No trace of Falklands\' nostalgia here. He\'s like any other 16-year-old signed up at the army careers office to fight for the cause of the moment, then left at 22 without skills or prospects at the door of the JobCentre. His anger is easily shared – just like his dawning realisation that the Taliban will be there long after Nato has gone home; that it was all for so very little. But you don\'t turn the final pages filled with gloom. You\'ve learned some vivid things, because Kenny Meighan is such a survivor. He still has the rest of his life to live. And you also know what it feels like to kill. How, close-up, the eyes of the Afghan you shot may haunt you. How you rationalise a conflict that may claim you tomorrow. These are lessons beyond mere politics. Kenny is someone you feel you know close to; someone readers can care about – and someone who can make death faraway live.