Dominion

By C.J. Sansom.

Dominion is set in an alternative 1952 in a universe where Britain negotiated peace with Germany in 1940 and became a fascist puppet state run by Lord Beaverbrook. The Resistance is led by the ageing Winston Churchill while in Germany, no one has seen Hitler in public for two years.

David Fitzgerald, a civil servant working in the Dominions Office, is recruited into the Resistance by Geoff Drax. He manages to get access to secret files which he photographs and passes on the information contained in them. In his haste, he accidentally leaves a sheet of paper from a different file in the wrong place.

At the same time, an old university friend of his, the timid Frank Muncaster, has been locked up in a mental hospital after pushing his brother, Edgar, out of a window after the latter told him about his work on the atomic bomb for the Americans.

The Resistance gets Fitzgerald involved, but the Germans have also heard about the incident between the Muncaster brothers and send Gunther Hoth, who has been hunting down the few surviving Jews in Germany. The Germans are keen to find out what the tight-lipped Muncaster knows.

The two matters come to a head and walk right into the Great Smog of 1952 where the Germans and collaborators in Special Branch narrowly miss capturing the party as it makes its way to the south coast (including a chat with Churchill) to a waiting US submarine.

Meanwhile, news come through that Hitler has died, and Germany collapses into civil war.

A brick of a book. It doesn’t pall, but I’m sure with some judicious editing, it could be reduced to 250 pages (from 690) and still be a ripping yarn. For example, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for “Frank Muncaster’s Schooldays” since Sansom frequently repeats how nervous the man is. Nor is there any real reason for Fitzgerald’s wife, Sarah, to feature that much except as ’er indoors, as Arthur Daley would say. Does her side story, the death of Mrs Templeman, really contribute anything overall? Not really.

Fitzgerald may as well be wearing a T-shirt saying “Kiss me, I’m Irish” since every woman who crosses his path immediately falls in love with him, from Natalia, the mysterious Slovakian Resistance woman to the unfortunate Carol Bennett.

The Historical note at the end of the book also includes a tirade from the half-Scottish Sansom about the opportunistic SNP pre-independence referendum and pre-2015 elections. He also uses the Scottish Communist character, Ben, to lambast them as well.

Dominion isn’t a bad story, but it can be a bit of a trudge at times.

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