Friday, May 30, 2014

Book Review: A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin

Sometimes reading about how a book got published is just as interesting as reading the book itself. A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin, to be published in June, actually got its start on AlternateHistory.com when it was published as a alternate history James Bond fan fiction. Over time it was reworked into the novel it has become today. From my point of view, that is pretty cool. I have always held that much of the fiction I read on places like AlternateHistory.com is good enough to be published and now Transworld, which is part of Random House Penguin, agrees with me!

Enough about online alternate history, lets get to the meat of A Kill in the Morning. The story is set in an alternate 1950s where Churchill died in 1941. Britain made peace with Germany thus freeing the Nazis up to make war on the Soviets. The two sides fought themselves to a standstill, but after Stalin is overthrown in a coup, peace is made. Germany gains the western SSRs, but the core of the Soviet Union still exists. Now the powers are locked in a three-way Cold War for supremacy over the world. The United States and Imperial Japan still exist (Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor is this timeline), but neither is considered a great power due to lack of will or resources respectively.

Our hero is a nameless British agent working for "The Service", a combined British intelligence agency made up of MI6 and the SOE. He is an expert assassin who chases skirt, drives fast cars and lives the high life...but he is not James Bond (damn you copyright laws). Nevertheless, the nameless agent is actually a nice touch (they've given you a number and taken away your name) since this is a love letter to the Cold War spy fiction. We follow him play out those old tropes in this alternate timeline where the evil of Nazi Germany replaces the somewhat more mundane evil of Communist Russia.

Reinhard Heydrich is the main antagonist of the piece, making a decent Bond villain despite being a common actor in many WWII alternate histories. The death of the head of the Service, Stewart Menzies a.k.a. the Old Man, is blamed on Heydrich and motivates our hero to seek out vengeance with or without the help of the British Empire. His simple plan of vengeance goes awry as he uncovers a massive conspiracy that could result in another war between Britain and Germany.

I enjoyed reading A Kill in the Morning. Besides the occasional James Bond or Austin Powers film, my experience with Cold War spy thrillers has been minimal. Not knowing what to expect, I enjoyed the constant dangers the main characters were in and the secret war fought between the intelligence agencies of the rival blocs. Shimmin's timeline is unique that it has a victorious Nazi Germany without turning it into a wank and having the British Empire be the leader of the free world instead of the Americans was a good change of pace. I always liked the multi-polar Cold War after World War II, a scenario I would to love see more of, and Shimmin did a great jog giving detailed descriptions of the weapons and vehicles that came out of this alternate timeline.

The story was reminiscent of Moore's Bring the Jubilee which was one of the first classics of the genre that I read and I can see how it inspired A Kill in the Morning. I also enjoyed the supplements that came with the story including a glossary of terms from Shimmin's alternate timeline, a timeline and a list of all the historical persons who had cameos in the story. Many were obscure and I was surprised to discover that many characters who I assumed were fictional were actually real people.

The book is not without its faults. I read an uncorrected proof copy so I can't comment on how many typos will be in the final copy, but there were other issues I think need to be mentioned. The map of Europe at the front of the book could have been more detailed and I am not sure if I completely find the border of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to be plausible. There was also the question about who killed Menzies that was left unresolved. The protagonist is confident that it was Heydrich, but many other characters expressed doubt about that theory. Nevertheless, we never find out exactly who killed Menzies although this becomes less and less important as the real threat in the story unveils itself.

My biggest issue with A Kill in the Morning, however, is the use of the alien space bat plot device. I don't want to give too much of the plot away (so skip to the last paragraph if you are worried) but some of the exotic technology the Nazis use comes from an unknown alien race that intervened in human affairs eons ago. Now in general I don't have a problem with the ancient astronaut trope in fiction. I have seen it plenty of times, most recently in Age of Shiva by James Lovegrove. The problem is I am seeing it too often across the entire SF spectrum. It is starting to become overdone like time travel, parallel universes or steampunk. Not saying any of those categories or tropes are bad by themselves, but I am going to get burnt out soon and turn down the next book that involves little green men mucking around in the past.

Despite my tiny rant above, I can still recommend A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin. It was an engrossing tale of espionage against a truly evil enemy. It was a unique twist on the Nazis win World War II scenario and notwithstanding some quibbles I had with the plot, I still think you will find it an entertaining read written by a true fan of alternate history.

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Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger on Amazing Stories. Check out his short fiction. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the fair-minded review, Matt.

    You'll be pleased to hear that the typos and the map issues were dealt with during proof-reading :-)

    ReplyDelete