Published: 2012
Author: C.J.Sansom

A terrifying look at what could have been

Every 27th January we commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK (and across the world). It offers a time to remember the victims of the Nazis and to pledge not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The question is sometimes raised of the relevance to the UK of the Holocaust – it didn’t happen here, Nazis were never in power in Britain and besides it could never happen here. The British people would never allow it. What if it did though? What if Churchill never became Prime Minister? What if the military setbacks of 1940 caused Britain to capitulate? And what if Germany had been our allies rather than enemies? C.J. Sansom’s latest novel Dominion asks and, with terrifying plausibility, answers these questions.

It is 1952, 12 years on from the end of a short war. Britain and Germany are allies, Hitler is Fuhrer, Beaverbrook is Prime Minister and Oswald Mosley is Home Secretary. Britain is little more than a satellite state of the Third Reich with fascists in power and increasing numbers of anti-semitic laws being enacted. Civil servant David Fitzgerald has been an active member of the resistance, led by an aging and ailing Winston Churchill, and is called upon to rescue old university friend Frank Muncaster from a mental hospital. Muncaster’s knowledge of the US development of an atomic weapon makes him a target for the Gestapo and the resistance need to ensure his safe passage to the US. Against a backdrop of the Great Smog of 1952 David, his wife Sarah and members of the resistance are caught in a race against time to get Frank to safety.

I do enjoy a good counterfactual history novel and this is a very good example of the genre. More accessible and enjoyable than Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, Dominion stands shoulder to shoulder with Fatherland as a great fictional what if. Unlike Fatherland though, Sansom presents the British reader with a very chilling future which is just credible enough to make you stop and think. Peppered throughout the novel are tidbits of British life that seem to be plucked directly from history – a Frankie Howerd comedy on television, a police drama featuring a kindly Sergeant Dixon but also enough more sinister facts that increase both believability and fear. Osward Moseley as Home Secretary? I’m not exaggerating when I say that I physically shuddered at the thought.  There are also a couple of sad moments – Queen Elizabeth has ascended to the throne but remains single and a pawn in Berlin’s game.

Some readers will find much of the history presented as all too believable, others will continue to believe that it couldn’t happen in Britain and dismiss Dominion as far-fetched. Some, and I’m particularly thinking of Scottish Nationalists, will be furious at the picture painted by Sansom. Nationalism is not a political theory to which Sansom subscribes and his depiction of the SNP as a proto-fascist party will infuriate many. This is not a book I’ll be buying my dad for Christmas.

The action is by and large fast-paced and exciting although there is a slight sag in the middle. At 560 pages this is a big book and perhaps it could have done with a tiny bit more tightening up – not much though and it does seem like a minor point when overall the book was absolutely gripping and involving. Several times while reading this novel it seemed as though the story was ripe for television adaptation, the story would lend itself well to a beautifully filmed Sunday night crowd-pleaser.

Dominion is an absolute must-read for fans of intelligent, well-written adventure stories which both entertain and frighten and is one of the best and most satisfying books I’ve read this year.

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