Dominion by C.J. Sansom is a historical thriller reimagining Britain if it had been conquered by the Nazis (available January 28, 2014):
It is 1952, and Britain has been conquered by the Nazis and defeated by those who would placate the almighty Germany. The Resistance has a peerless leader in Winston Churchill, but they cannot stop the noose tightening on Jewish people in Britain, fuelled by a puppet media. In a West Midlands institution for mentally ill people, there is Frank Muncaster. Far from being just another patient, he holds the key to the balance of power throughout the world and for all time. David Fitzgerald, a Resistance spy working in the civil service, has the task to get hold of Muncaster and spirit him out of Britain. Tracking David Fitzgerald is Gunther Hoth, a member of the hated snake with many heads, the Gestapo. Born to hunt, Gunther’s favourite targets are human. He is closing in on David and his wife Sarah, who, previously oblivious to David’s double life, finds her life equally in danger.
With sophisticated, subtle ease, C.J. Sansom weaves a tale of what might have been if history had turned out differently. He shows, through this tale of intrigue and love, that the danger is not of history repeating itself, but from mankind. Sansom takes us to a cold Britain in the vice-like grip of the Nazis:
The last note died away. Then to the sound of the “Funeral March” played by the band of the Brigade of Guards, the young Queen bore a wreath of poppies that looked too big for her to carry, laid it down on the Cenotaph, and stood back with bowed head. She walked slowly back to her place and the QueenMother followed.
“So young to be a widow,” Sarah said.
“Yes.” David had noticed a faint smoky tang in the air and, looking up at Whitehall for a moment, saw a slight haze. There would be a fog tonight.
The rest of the Royal Family laid their wreaths, followed by the military leaders, the Prime Minister and politicians and representatives of the Empire Governments. The base of the stark, simple monument was now carpeted in the dark green wreaths with their red poppies. Then Germany’s ambassador, Erwin Rommel, one of the victors of the 1940 campaign in France, stepped forward, trim and military, Iron Cross pinned to his breast, his handsome face stern and sad. The wreath he bore was enormous, larger even than the Queen’s. In the center, on a white background was a swastika. He laid the wreath and stood, head bowed, for a long moment before turning away. Behind him Joseph Kennedy, the veteran American ambassador, waited. It was his turn next.
Then, from behind David came a sudden shouting. “End Nazi control! Democracy now!” Up the Resistance!” Something sailed over the heads of the crowd at Rommel’s feet.
Sarah gasped. Irene and some of the other women in the crowd screamed. The steps of the Cenotaph and the bottom of Rommel’s coat were instantly streaked with red and for a moment David thought it was blood, that someone had thrown a bomb, but then he saw a paint pot rattle down the steps onto the pavement. Rommeldid not flinch, just stood where he was. Ambassador Kennedy, though, had jumped back in panic. Policemen were reaching for truncheons and pistols. A group of soldiers, rifles at the ready, stepped forward. David saw the Royal Family being hurried away…
Sarah has no idea this is just the beginning. She doesn’t know about her husband. Part Jewish, “the penalty for concealing your identity was indefinite detention.” David is recruited to spy for the resistance, fuelled by the belief that this was not how it should be. The job in the civil service saw him in the Dominion Office as Principal in the Political Division. Opportunities would arise to aid the Resistance, but he could not tell his wife, a pacifist, who, though filled with hate for the government, would not support the Resistance. Sansom scribes David’s character with consummate ease. Tortured with guilt about his deception, yet resentful toward his wife for her beliefs that cause him to have to lie. Then, the Gestapo man Gunther Hoth arrives:
England was just as he remembered it, cold and damp. Everyone looked pale, preoccupied, the clothes of working people worn and shabby. Many of the grimy buildings seemed in poor condition. There were lumps of dog dirt everywhere in the gutters and on the pavement too. Things had hardly changed since he was last here seven years ago, in fact they looked much the same as when he first came to England, as a student, back in 1929.
Gunther is here because the Nazis have a special interest in Frank languishing in a mental hospital. They want what he knows. He also knows the Americans will want him for the same reason. Frank reaches out to David, his former flat mate when they both studied at Oxford, who Frank considers his only friend. The fuse is lit and David and Sarah are embroiled in an electrifying challenge of good versus evil, pursued by Gunther who appears to be, constantly, one step ahead.
The grim reality of a nation under the yoke of a merciless oppressor is captured with great efficiency in the book. What might have been leaps off the page and grabs you by the throat with a hand at the end of a swastika-emblazoned, uniformed arm. This book had elements which made my skin crawl, but it is a fantastic read, taking you on a journey which shows that bravery and integrity of a few really can break the hold of many, particularly those intent on world domination.
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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.