Book review: The British Lion byÂ Tony Schumacher
When you are a collaborator in Nazi-ruled Britain, enemies are more numerous than friends'¦
Former London bobby and war hero John Rossett, who notoriously rounded up Jews for the Gestapo, has formed an unlikely and uneasy relationship with German Major Ernst Koehler, but is he prepared to risk his life to help the SS officer find his abducted family?
Liverpool author Tony Schumacher impressed critics with his brilliant 2014 debut novel, The Darkest Hour, an action-packed, high tension, alternate history which featured a page-turning thriller set against a Britain run by Hitler’s henchmen.
In this outstanding follow-up, Schumacher takes his writing to a new and higher level as he recreates his remarkable world of 1946 Nazi Britain, a country living under the jackboot with Edward VIII as the puppet king, fascist leader Oswald Mosley acting as Prime Minister, dubious resistance movements operating in the shadows and a government-in-exile in Canada.
Caught between the brutality of the conquerors, the ruthless criminality of the resistance fighters and the uncertain politics of the Americans is John Rossett, a complex, fascinating man for all seasons whose conscience has so far saved him from totally succumbing to the Nazi creed.
Rossett was decorated for his wartime heroics but he lost everything in the conflict, including his wife and child who were killed in a resistance bombing campaign, and now he has no family, no home and no future.
In November 1946, the victorious Germans occupy Britain and Rossett lies in a hospital bed in London recovering from gunshot wounds received in a rogue incident while he was working for the Office of Jewish Affairs, rounding up Jews for deportation.
Desperate to avoid blame over the events that led to the shooting, his Nazi boss, Ernst Koehler, has covered up the incident but Rossett wants to return to the police force ‘to do good again.’
When Koehler’s wife Lotte and 13-year-old daughter Anja are kidnapped by American spies, the desperate German turns to Rossett, the only man he trusts, to do whatever is necessary to get them back safely.
It’s a dangerous assignment for Rossett in a chaotic new world ruled by treachery and betrayal. He must secretly make his way out of London and find Ruth Hartz, a Jewish scientist working in Cambridge. She has been spared death because of her intellect and expertise, and is being forced to work on developing the atom bomb for Germany.
The Americans need Hartz for their own nuclear ambitions and they want Koehler to hand over the scientist in return for his family.
With ruthless Nazi policemen hot on his trail, and a cat-and-mouse chase across the country in the harshest of winters, has Rossett taken on a deadly mission impossible?
The British Lion is an extraordinary and exciting tour-de-force, a pulsating portrayal of a broken nation that is breathtakingly imagined and terrifying in the sheer power of its possibilities.
But Schumacher’s talents extend far beyond his enthralling evocation of a dark, dystopian Britain. Immaculate research and acute observation are allied to a dynamic cast of characters, from the double dealers and menacing conquerors to the damaged, disillusioned detective Rossett, constantly torn between his cynicism and his humanity.
A riveting, remarkable novel which makes one hope there is more to come…
(William Morrow, paperback, £7.99)