This thriller is a tremendously fun romp through an alternative history set in 1959 where the Second World War didn’t happen. Hitler died in 1939, and the British Empire has sustained its precarious position through careful diplomacy. Britain is still ruled well by a conservative establishment on a mix of traditional values and liberal enterprise: hard currency and technological innovation; beautiful buildings and statues; zeppelins and heated pavements. The sixties (speculated by AnomalyUK to have really started in the 1950s) never happen.
Guns are legal. So are drugs, and the characters ingest enormous quantities of them throughout the story (alcohol, cannabis, heroin, and several unnamed concoctions); after you read the book, read Bella Gerens’ review for an amusing theory.
In the universe of this book, Churchill was an unsuccessful alcoholic, and our leading man is the world’s “leading Churchill scholar. Then again, bearing in mind Winston Churchill’s current obscurity, it would have been less flattering, though more correct, to describe me as the only Churchill scholar.” So why are all the characters desparate to get their hands on the “Churchill Memorandum”?
The book is a thriller in the style of John Buchan and Bulldog Drummond. “You weren’t expected to blunder about like Richard Hannay on benzedrine!” exclaims one character.
The book is very well written and rollicks along. The most enjoyable thing about it is how the alternative history setting allows the author to make plenty of jokes by casting historical figures in unlikely (or likely) roles. All the villains of the real-world post-war revolution from Roy Jenkins downwards meet their comeuppance. I won’t give much more away, other than to quote how the central villain of the piece is described:
“One thing was certain. Behind that pipe and that carefully-designed mask of aged Edwardian fop, there lurked the world’s most desperate gambler since the car accident in Prague twenty years before. To become Prime Minister, and to stamp his name into all the future history books, there was no limit to the wickedness of Harold Macmillan.”