The American poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote that the saddest words are "It might have been." But writers of alternative history fiction would disagree. What's more exciting than turning history upside down?
The Man in the High Castle, SS-GB, Fatherland, and Dominion are just a few of the fascinating novels that have pictured a victorious Germany in World War II. Tony Schumacher's debut thriller The Darkest Hour gives the story an exciting twist by making its hero an actual war hero. John Henry Rossett, a former policeman, is known as "The British Lion" for his courageous struggles against the Nazis, but a cop once again, he's now been ordered into the German unit rounding up English Jews for transportation to Poland.
He follows orders. He knows what he's doing is wrong and doesn't want to know where the Jews are really going.
Like most other people in London and England, he's heard rumors about what happens to them in Poland.
But he doesn't really care. Yet. He's a shattered man. His wife and son were killed by a Resistance bomb, and though he's ruthless in his work, he's dead inside until something unexpected happens during what should be a routine roundup.
Schumacher does a terrific job of setting up a situation that unexpectedly brings Rossett back to life. And he deftly creates a London sunk in misery, despair, dankness, corruption, and fog while maintaining an almost breakneck speed through the course of the book. I really wanted to put everything else aside when I got into this book and just read, read, read. The intense action scenes can sometimes feel too choreographed, but they're exciting and believable; Rossett's stubbornness, strength, and fury always make sense.
Churchill and the King are in Canada and there's a "new King" we never see. There's also a resistance movement and the IRA is somewhere in the shadows, too. America has left the war after FDR's death, but we don't get much more detail about the rest of the world or even Britain. And Schumacher's German characters sometimes seem more English than German at times--but those are minor flaws.
The Darkest Hour is compelling and filled with surprises as well as a fascinating array of slimy characters at all levels of society. The few decent people are just candles in the wind.
How good is this book? When I finished it, I picked up the sequel right away: The British Lion.
Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books including the novel The German Money which the Washington Post compared to John le Carré, Kafka, and Philip Roth.