By Robert Harris
I picked this up randomly off the ‘recently returned’ bookshelf at my local library. Turns out this book made the author, a humble journalist, famous – and this was the 20th anniversary edition.
If you have a thing for dystopic novels or an interest in WWII, Fatherland will probably ring all your bells. History buffs will probably appreciate Harris’ efforts to stay as close to the truth as possible, with characters, events, documents and places often based in fact. This is a world where, in the 1960s, there is a nervous standoff between Germany and the rest of the world. The Nazis managed to cow Europe into submission and starve out the Brits (Churchill and the Queen have fled to Canada) and a cold war ensued between Germany and the US. The Holocaust is suspected, but not proven – and nobody dares to ask the hard questions about where all the Jews went.
Xavier March is a member of the Kriminalpolizei force. It is 20 years on from Nazi Germany’s victory in World War II and the entire country is gearing up for the grand celebration of the Führer’s birthday and a peacemaking visit from President Kennedy. March, however, finds himself at the centre of a rapidly unfolding drama, beginning with a corpse found in a lake one morning who turns out to be a VIP Nazi official. The Gestapo orders March off the case, but our hardboiled detective refuses to back off, uncovering something much more sinister – a trail of mysterious deaths dating back many years.
A young American journalist about to be booted from the scene handily gets involved, and together they set about tracking down the truth. Why are these men dead? Who gave the orders? What were they covering up? And once they get to the bottom of the conspiracy, can either of them make it out of the country alive to expose the true nature of the Third Reich?
Fatherland’s characters are not new: the principled hero, a police officer struggling with a corrupt regime, who has given up his family for the job and believes he’s doing the right thing. The bumbling sidekick, steady but not brilliant, more concerned about his family than about principles. The foreign journalist, young, beautiful and with a thing for older men.
But the premise is so compelling that the blockbuster personalities can be forgiven. We’re not here for the writing; we’re here for the dark, twisted world the author has imagined and brought to terrifying life.
You might like the Small Changes Trilogy by Jo Walton (Farthing, Ha’penny and Half A Crown). It’s a dystopian alternate history where Nazis have taken over Europe and England has an uneasy independence from its threat. The first is a mystery set among a group of politicians at a house party, the second involves terrorisms and a group of sisters just like the Mitfords, and the third centers on a girl who has grown up during this rise of fascism and discovers the truth and secrets. Great writing and plots, good characters.