Fiction Reviews

A Kill in the Morning

(2014) Graeme Shimmin, Bantam Books,£7.99, pbk,380pp, ISBN 978-0-857-50257-5


After struggling my way through all Fifty Shades Of Grey, I was a little bit wary of reading another novel that started life as a work of fan-fiction, but this one really is actually great fun.

The inspiration for this Boy’s Own adventure alternative history is Ian Fleming, as the un-named hero is undoubtedly Sean Connery era James Bond in all but name, but here he is continuing to fight the Nazis even after the British have officially called off hostilities. Hitler has developed nuclear weapons. This has forced many countries to cease hostilities against the Reich. Churchill has been assassinated. Britain and Germany are engaged in Cold War diplomacy, and espionage while the stubborn, man’s gotta do hero refuses to stop fighting World War Two. As the near-conflict drags on into the mid-1950’s the hero is more interested in targeting Reinhardt Heydrich than Hitler, as Heydrich killed his lover when an earlier mission went pear-shaped. Yup, the war is very personal between these two. In reality, Heydrich, the leader of the SA and a leading organizer of the Final Solution, was assassinated in Prague in 1942, with terrible reprisal inflicted on Jewish communities who were believed to have been involved in his death.

In Shimmin’s alternate Europe, the hero single handedly liberates concentration camps, skis down mountains even on broken legs, and proves to be highly insubordinate. He refuses to heed the direct orders from MI5 to come in from the cold. His own people are out to kill him as much as the Nazis, and there seems to be a traitor in MI5 too – isn’t there always?

The women all turn into instant nymphomaniacs for the hero, which often reduces their antics to farce worthy of an episode of Allo-Allo. Sent to be tortured by two Gestapo girls clearly modelled on Bambi & Thumper from Diamonds Are Forever, the hero finds that they are Resistance agents and they all share a rather more exquisite kind of pain with the apparatus at their disposal. Listening Nazis mistake one kind of screaming for another. The leading love interest is called Kitty, a rather obvious play on words for Pussy Galore.

Heydrich is a Panto season Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and he has most of the cool gadgets. The hero prefers a shotgun to exploding cigarette lighters. Unfortunately for him, Heydrich has literally made himself bullet proof with force field energy, and plays Hounds Of Zarrof style hunting games with his prisoners. He lays on an expensive banquet for the hero, then sets him free, but handcuffed to Molly, another of the heroines, with a few minutes start before releasing the dogs and the SS-Officers for a spot of sport.

The indestructible villain will perish of course, more than once in a satisfactory ghastly fashion.

Heydrich has access to alien UFO time travel technology (the acquisition of which is never really explained in detail) which the hero aims to capture before Heydrich can win the war even earlier.

The hero gains unexpected assistance from Guy Gibson and the Dam Busters squad. You will find the movie theme music playing in your head whenever they appear. History as we know it seems a likely outcome from early on.

This is not alternative history in the style of Robert Harris or Harry Turtledove – it is much more on par with Alistair MacLean’s Guns Of Navarone and Quentin Tarrantino’s Inglorious Bustards, with a very novel explanation for Rudolf Hess’s 1941 flight into Scotland.

Bizarrely, Shimmin pulls it off and the story never fails to grip or entertain despite being blatantly preposterous. Shimmin has a lot of straight-faced fun with his nonsensical ripping yarn plot but sometimes he remembers that the war was real and reflects on the true ghastliness of the times, especially in his heart-felt postscript notes on the true events he researched very well indeed to put the story together, but the novel is a relentless high octane romp with no aspirations to high literature. It’s the literary equivalent of a good no-brainer movie.

It is widely promoted as a spy novel (even the cover art looks like a James Bond movie poster) but its science fiction aspects (especially the alien time travel tech) greatly outweigh the espionage elements. Some reviewers have absurdly described it as ‘plausible’ but it is about as plausible as Godzilla taking me to Neptune. What it is happens to be shameless guilty pleasure. It will be interesting to see more of Shimmin’s work, hopefully leaving fan fiction roots behind.

Arthur Chappell

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