By C. J. Samson. My rating: ★★★★☆
The Basics: The year is 1952. After surrendering in 1940 Britain is now a subservient Vichy-like ally to the victorious Nazi Germany which dominates all of Europe and most of Russia. David Fitzgerald, a Civil Servant in the Dominions Office, suffers the tragedy of losing his young son which leads to him reconsider his surroundings and begin a dangerous journey into what remains of the British ‘Resistance.’ Learning that an old university friend of David’s bears a potentially world changing secret, the Resistance acts quickly to learn this before the Nazi regime does, whose search is lead by the ageing Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Hoth.
In-depth: Counter-factual historical fiction is most definitely ‘in’ at the moment. The current TV series based on the Philip K Dick book ‘The Man in the High Castle,’ which depicts an early 1960s North America co-ruled by seemingly victorious Nazi and Imperial Japanese regimes, is the most glossy and visible representation of this trend. However Samson’s ‘Dominion’ from 2012, somehow written and published in the midst of his brilliant and continuing Shardlake series, is a fantastic, gritty and British alternative.
Samson turns history from 1940 onwards on it’s head and teasingly reveals the many intricate details of his imagination through off the cuff conversations. The characters are easy to relate too, include quite worryingly even some of the Nazi’s, due to the immense back stories Samson dedicates to each of them. The most tragic is of Frank Muncaster via his brutal school days of bullying, then his even darker days in a mental asylum and his final opening up whilst on the run with the resistance.
The central couple of David and his wife Sarah form the basis of the book, particularly their transformation into ‘criminals’ who resist the Fascist leaning British Government (Newspaper Tycoon Lord Beaverbrook as PM, Oswald Mosley as Home Secretary alongside faint rumours of Winston Churchill still on the run and heading the Resistance).
Finally another of the main characters is a Scottish Communist called Ben. Not only is his speech spelt out how it’s spoken through his thick Glaswegian working class accent, which can bring joy to the reader in deciphering what at first appears a foreign language, but his character and views seem to represent something close to what could be the authors view of Scottish nationalism today.
Before reading this book I noticed a news story about Sansom being a passionate and financial backer of the No campaign in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum. In a revealing section late in the book Ben lays into the Scottish National Party and their wider attachment to the small minded nationalism that grips Europe in this dark vision of 1950s Europe abandoned by an isolationist USA. It appears a dig at the current Scottish National Party and what to Sansom seems to be the insidious opportunism of valuing the nation as a whole above the people that actually make up nations.
This offers an interesting insight into the current politics of Scottish nationalism today but is merely a hidden nugget in what is an exciting thriller within a remarkably well estimated and entertaining guess at what the world could have looked like if Britain had surrendered in 1940.