Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher

review by Maryom

The year is 1946, WW2 is over, but the Germans have won and now occupy London. Once a highly decorated British war hero, John Henry Rossett has now been assigned to the Office of Jewish Affairs, and put in charge of rounding up Jews and packing them onto trains for deportation. A man who's abandoned hope after the death of his wife and child, he goes about his work unthinkingly, with his eyes blinkered, not wanting to know what happens once the trains leave. Then one day his conscience is sparked by Jacob, a young Jewish boy found hiding in an empty house. Unable to leave him to his fate, Rossett resolves to get the boy to safety, but as word gets out that Jacob knows the whereabouts of a treasure in gold or diamonds, it seems like most of London is in pursuit of them.

Starting from the alternative historical standpoint of a German victory leading to the occupation of Britain, Schumacher weaves a tense thriller around a change of heart for a disillusioned man and his attempts to save the life of one young Jewish boy. Alternative history is always fascinating with its exploration of what might have happened if..... and as you might expect in any occupied country, people are divided between collaborators, resistance and those who just try to get on with their lives and ignore wider events - till his conscience is stirred, Rossett definitely falls into this latter category. Even when he decides to save Jacob, it isn't clear what his motives are - a humanitarian gesture or an interest in the 'treasure'?
Perhaps it isn't the right way to approach a novel, but I wondered at times why Schumacher had chosen a fictional London as the setting - with a few changes to names and locations the story could easily have happened in a real occupied France. It's a more straightforward action-adventure than  Owen Sheers' Resistance (set in a German occupied remote Welsh valley), lacking some of the emotional and moral ambiguity, but it's highly entertaining with the action moving along quickly, and Rossett barely escaping from one dangerous situation before plunging into another.
The supporting characters are nicely nuanced; the Germans not all bad -and with a surprising amount of humour about them; the English not all good - with several claiming to support one side while secretly helping the other, and leaving Rossett with no one he can really trust. There's enough ambiguity in the ending to leave the way open for a sequel, maybe even a series, in which case I'd hope to read more of Rossett's back story, to flesh him out from the slightly enigmatic figure I found him to be.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher -
Harper Collins
(William Morrow/Harper360)

Genre - adult,
thriller, WW2, alternative history

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