Book review: The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher

Before the Second World War, London bobby John Rossett was a well-respected ‘thief-taker’ … in 1946, under Nazi occupation, he’s become a ruthlessly efficient ‘Jew-taker.’

The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher
The Darkest Hour by Tony Schumacher

A vulnerable little Jewish boy, found hiding behind a bookcase in an abandoned building, will give the hardened detective one last chance to buy back his soul from the Devil.

Liverpool author and debut novelist Tony Schumacher plays a blinder in this action-packed, high tension, alternate history which features a deadly game of cat-and-mouse in a Britain run by Hitler’s henchmen.

Schumacher, who has written for The Guardian, the Huffington Post and both Liverpool and Manchester Confidential magazines, conjures up a superbly imagined Nazi-conquered Britain as the atmospheric backdrop for a powerful tale of corrosive suspicion and electrifying danger.

With the country overrun by the Germans in 1944, fascist leader Oswald Mosley acting as Prime Minister, resistance movements operating in the shadows and a government-in-exile in faraway Canada, London is a city living under the jackboot.

‘Someone has to do the job. It may as well be me.’ This is what Detective Sergeant John Rossett tells himself as he carries out his work for the Office of Jewish Affairs, a department strictly under the control of the SS, based at Charing Cross police station in London.

Rossett wears a swastika badge on his uniform, tries to ignore the nightmares that haunt his sleep and gets on with his job of rounding up Jews for deportation to camps in Eastern Europe.

It wasn’t always like this. Rossett is a decorated British war hero but he lost everything in the conflict, including his wife and child who were blown to smithereens in a resistance bombing campaign, and now he exists in a state of emotional detachment.

But then he finds Jacob Galkoff, a young Jewish boy and grandson of a community leader Rossett has known since his childhood. Seven-year-old Jacob is hiding in a block of flats cleared by Rossett’s men and it’s his duty to hand him over to the SS… only suddenly the work seems personal.

Determined to protect Jacob and by helping him put right some of his own wrongs, Rossett soon finds himself on the run, hunted by not only the Germans but also the resistance and the Communists.

Each faction has its own agenda and Rossett will soon learn that none of them can be trusted… and all of them would see him dead.

The Darkest Hour is an exciting and breathtakingly plausible first novel brimming with suspense and starring a superbly-drawn cast of characters, from the double dealers and brutal Nazis to the damaged, disillusioned detective who put his humanity on ice and the young boy who triggers the thaw and becomes the former war hero’s road to salvation.

The developing relationship between Rossett and Jacob is the catalyst for a dark, fast-paced story which also explores the desensitising nature of hopelessness and despair, how good people can turn bad in the struggle to survive and the redeeming power of love and friendship.

Schumacher has created a cleverly nuanced and convincing thriller, intelligently written, frequently thought-provoking, sometimes disturbing … and guaranteed to keep the pages turning right up to the unexpected and stunning climax.

An impressive debut.

(William Morrow, paperback, £7.99)