Dishonourable member

Image in the Water

Douglas Hurd <em>Little, Brown, 243pp, £16.99</em>

ISBN 0316857726

This is a John Buchanesque tale of intrigue, kidnapping and Scottish nationalism, enlivened by Douglas Hurd's usual twists and surprises. I can recommend it for any train or plane journey, even if the schemes surrounding the various Tory leadership plots are just a bit convoluted and may really grip only those embroiled in them in real life, or those who write the commentaries on the contestants. Hurd has made a reputation as a political novelist, but if he would only get away from Westminster in his stories and write for the general reader (who neither knows nor cares how they plot in political circles), he would, I suspect, have a huge following.

Most of the characters here, whether principals or cameos, are convincing, and the book is not easy to put down. In true Hurd fashion, the schemers and plotters get their comeuppance; but on this occasion, an innocent man is libelled and destroyed with impunity by an overmighty and hostile press. I waited in vain for him to be vindicated.

The story - ambitious Tory backs Scottish independence and sets up his own English Nationalist Party - is sufficiently simple for you to wonder if it might one day happen. The only off-key note is when the mother of a kidnapped baby seems to carry on as usual while waiting for news. There is little insight into the mental suffering that parents in such a position would endure, and it is an uncharacteristic sacrifice of imagination to plot.

Similarly, it is unlikely that a wife's family would put an end to her husband's career without some fairly severe recriminations. Implausibly, the main character never appears to be angry or bitter, no matter how serious the allegations against him, despite being otherwise portrayed as rather nasty and overwhelmingly self-centred.

Hurd has dedicated his new book to the "electors of West Oxfordshire". Humph. It is devoutly to be hoped that they think Hurd himself a truer image of politicians than the David Alcester of this story - otherwise there will be an unprecedentedly low turnout there at the next election.

Ann Widdecombe is a Conservative MP and the author of The Clematis Tree (Phoenix Press, £6.99)

This article first appeared in the 12 November 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The Empire strikes back