Thursday, June 05, 2014

"Dominion".. a review

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Edmund Burke

I don't normally review every book I read (that's what the little boxes are for on the left ... ) but every now and again you come across one you think is worthy of a little extra mention and this is definitely one of them...

Sansom is probably better known for his Matthew Shardlake series, a a lawyer-detective in the court of Henry VIII (and which I recommend whole heartedly), but he also writes more modern fiction this one, and "Winter in Madrid" (which is set in the Spanish Civil War) ...

Dominion is set in the 1950's, in a Britain that is a satellite of Germany since Britain surrendered at the end of the fall of France in 1940..  Sansom's starting point for his flight of imagination is that instead of Churchill succeeding Chamberlain in May 1940, Lord Halifax [clicky] does.

Halifax was an appeaser, hence the surrender, and so we find ourselves in 1952 in a Britain effectively ruled by the Germans via the British Prime Minister who is now the newspaper tycoon Lord Beaverbrook heading a coalition government that consisted of the pro-Treaty factions of the Conservative Party and Labour Party, as well as the British Union of Fascists, and with Oswald Mosley as home secretary.

Scotland Yard is now a division of the Gestapo, and a new semi-military police force called the Auxiliaries, organised by Moseley and packed with his black shirts dominate the streets.. Churchill has gone underground ahead of being arrested, and leads the Resistance, which has close ties with America (still isolationist), and the French underground.

The story is basically about the search for the secrets to the manufacture of atomic weapons, but the bigger background story is about how Britain could slide into an increasingly Nazi point of view without even knowing it...

The Germans are struggling to develop atomic weapons, but unknown to them the Americans are streets ahead, and one of their scientists visits Britain on the death of his mother (who lives in England) to visit his brother and agree what to do about the will... they have never liked each other, and after a drunken night out the scientist tells his brother secrets of the weapon that would be vital to the Germans research, but the brothers argue and the scientist ends up injured, while his brother (Frank), a mentally fragile Research Fellow at Birmingham University, ends up trashing his flat, raving about the end of the world, and getting arrested, before being then put in a mental hospital...

Either way, both the Germans and the Resistance get a sniff of this and so the mission is launched and each try to get Frank - either to safety in America, or to Germany.

Enter David, a civil servant, who has been working for the Resistance for some time (unknown to his wife) but who shared rooms with Frank when they were at University - in addition to mental fragility, Frank is a chronic loner (a hideously damaged childhood, a Scottish boarding school where he was badly bullied, and a love of Science Fiction and it was all downhill from there!) but formed an unlikely friendship with David, so the choice for the Resistance is obvious. A small team is put together, and they eventually manage to rescue Frank from the mental hospital, and they then go into hiding in a succession of safe houses, with an eventual destination of the south coast, and an escape to America.

Meanwhile the Germans have sent one of their best investigative detectives a Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer, Gunther Hoth; I have to admit feeling a little empathy with Hoth even though he has made his name as being one of their best detectives while discovering Jews in Berlin since the war, and is a committed Nazi... his politics are repugnant but his life has been sad. The German position is difficult, theoretically Britain is still an independent country (though wholly subservient to Germany), but they don't want anyone to know why they are after Frank as the information could also be valuable to Britain. In league with a British Special Branch Inspector Syme (hideously slimy, a real Uriah Heep) they also set out to find Frank..

There are loads of little snippets that provide background colour - the Russian war has been going on since the 'end' of WWII - 12 years - millions have died; a full length portrait of Hitler hangs in the entrance to the Portrait Gallery, Marie Stopes is pioneering eugenics and sterilisation, the Scottish Nationalists have reverted to a right wing group (based on nationalism alone), Enoch Powell as Secretary of State for India crushing independence, the Isle of Wight is a German garrison, Beaverbrook doing a trade deal with the Germans in return for handing over British Jews to the Germans, and the descent seems so easy (hence the Edmund Burke quote). There's a brilliant description of the great smog of 1952 [clicky] an actual event, there are the initial rumblings of what the Nazi's are about to reap as news is released that Hitler has died (of a heart attack) - the SS and the Army are opposed (Rommel is the German diplomatic representative in London) and a brutal war civil war is imminent...

The story reaches it climax on a beach at Rottingdean, as the resistance fugitives try to escape a Hoth lead ambush, and meet with an American submarine...

It's a big old book - 500 pages - but I have to say I enjoyed it enormously. It is not a rip roaring page turner, what you get is a lot of description, and multiple threads of stories.... It was one of those books where you feel a little disappointed when you've finished. Steve the Wargamer rates this one 9/10 - and if you are of that bent, there are some cracking Very British Civil war scenario's to be had....

Based on this I immediately launched into Len Deighton's SS:GB, and have it in mind to get hold of a copy of "Winter in Madrid" soonest...

1 comment:

  1. >>Based on this I immediately launched into Len Deighton's SS:GB

    As I was reading your synopsis, I was thinking "this sounds awfully like SS:GB". Hmm...

    My other thought is that if Churchill's "gone underground" he must have literally been hiding in a cellar since 1940 as he'd have been instantly recognisable to anyone, lol.

    ReplyDelete