Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A Kill in the Morning

The year is 1955 and something is very wrong with the world.

That is the excellent opening tagline which sucked me into the world of A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin. Published in 2015 this is a riveting action packed alternate history novel that could in fact be a feature film ripped from the 1980s. It has the riveting action and intrigue of a James Bond novel and the detail of an alternate history piece. Even the book cover looks like something you would find in the amazing stylized posters of the era!

Originally written on alternate history.com by user Shimbo it then got published and came out to some acclaim in the community. I'm quite pleased by this as not only am I a member of the website myself, but I've followed the work of other members there for a while as well!

In that case I was happy to tear into this novel with unbridled pleasure. Let me say that it doesn't disappoint on any front, whether it be action or alternate history!

Opening in 1955 we meet a nameless British assassin while he is out in Germany. Officially he is supposed to be on holiday. Really he ends up killing an SS officer who is responsible for the massacre of his team on a dangerous mission in 1947. One of them at least. He returns to a Britain engaged in a cold war with the German Reich, with the two sides are locked in atomic staring contest across the Channel.

While fleeing from his mission he meets a hapless member of the White Rose, Kitty, as she stumbles away from a mission of her own. Upon meeting her he returns to Britain where he begins to unravel an intrigue that has been playing out since 1941. In Germany itself, a ruthless SS man is rising to the top, the man with the iron heart Reinhard Heydrich.
The story gets instant points for being unique as alternate history premises go. In this alternate timeline the Americans never enter the war, and end up sitting it out as Hitler takes over Europe. The Nazis then run a crash program to achieve their own nuclear deterrent once Britain makes proof of their weapon. The end is a stalemate where the British Navy and RAF, with nuclear weapons, stand off against the superior Reich missiles armed with nuclear weapons.

A nuclear Nazi cold war is a great setting in my opinion. You could probably write a whole series around that premise alone.

However, this series has a more focused lens. Told largely through the eyes of our nameless protagonist it seeks to play out an exciting game of espionage, counter-terrorism, and assassination between the Reich and the British 'Service' which is a merger of MI6 and SOE. Here there is a bit of tit for tat round of espionage and sabotage. Our nameless protagonist "a thug with a bullet for a heart" kicks ass and takes names in these instances.

There's rarely a dull moment in this story, with a calm collected beginning leading to an assassination, then a series of attacks, chases, counterattacks and other chases in a James Bond-esque series of events that will leave you delighted if you enjoy those kinds of stories. Being a fan of classic Bond films (with gadgets and all) I was instantly sucked in.

Our poor nameless protagonist takes far more serious knocks than old Bond though, then gets up and keeps on kicking. Kitty herself isn't quite the femme-fatalle you would expect though. That role is filled by the SOE operative, Molly Ravenhill. Though she's at first stuck playing minder to the German defector Admiral Canaris she fills the role of a dangerous woman quite well as the story goes on.

The other supporting characters tend to be a hoot as well. The protagonists only friend in the service is Leo Marks, who makes a grand appearance. His rival is Nicholas Elliot, who we see quite a bit of in the chases later on. He's even good friends with Reuven Shiloah, who in OTL was the first Director of Mossad. Here though he directs SHAI in the Dominion of Israel (yeah you read that right).

There's more than a few historical villains and madmen who also show up. The aforementioned Heydrich makes his appearance. We also get the ruthlessly bloodthirsty Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who appropriately enough is running a death camp. There's Rudolf Hess, who causes so much trouble with his peace plans, and good old Werner Heisenberg, who helms the Nazi nuclear program and the mysterious Giant program which is the subject of much anxiety for the British.

The number of fun historical characters here is vast, to say the least. Some very, very fun in the end.

The plotting is well paced, with action being meticulously researched for the scenes they take place in. Grueling mountain climbs, shoot outs, stabbings, even wartime frogmen make appearances. Each is described believably and entertainingly. His grasp of technology from guns to airplanes is excellent, but not overly technical, with just enough information to show he knows what he's talking about but not enough to clutter up the narrative. It'll keep you engrossed to the final pages.

Mr. Shimmin really knows his history, and while some will argue he takes some dramatic license setting things up, he plays it straight and well. His research is impeccable and he lays out the scenario perfectly. As all us alternate history geeks love maps, he gives us one. He also lays out the alternate timeline, and gives the factual basis for his story in the notes at the back of the book. It creates a solid work there, and on my end is something to geek out about.

Now I won't reveal any spoilers, since the book takes some dramatic turns, but what you should know is that everything leads somewhere. Minor asides can blossom into great plot points, and hints within the book lead you down some unexpected paths.

In summation, this is an action packed alternate history that everyone should enjoy! A Kill in the Morning is not to be missed!

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