A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin(Transworld Books Co. UK 2014 Click on book cover to purchase from Amazon.)
OK, I'll start off with the criticism. This has got to be the worst cover I've ever seen. It's bad at first glance, second glance, and by third glance, you can't look at it any more. It's clunky, junky, and over complicated and it seems to scream, "Don't Read This Book!"
Here's my advice. Immediately after you purchase this book (and you absolutely should,) rip the cover off, and dispose of it properly. By properly, I mean in a specialized toxic waste facility properly certified for used power rods from nuclear power plants. In a couple of thousand years, the new races that occupy Earth will dig it up and probably be wiped out, but that's what they get for ignoring the warning signs.
Here's where the Wonderful Surprise comes in.
The book is tremendous.
Graeme Shimmin's debut is an alternate history speculative fiction novel that manages to avoid the pitfalls of the genre: the different world that grows out of the alteration of a single event is completely believable and the characters are fully developed and not just animatronic figures acting out Shimmin's concept. The protagonist is a British secret agent and assassin fighting in the 1950's Cold War between Britain and a Germany run by victorious Nazi's that now dominates Europe. Yes, there was a peace agreement instead of a Battle of Britain, the USA never entered the conflict, the British Empire still stands, and a Jewish State exists as a British colony.
All-in-all, a fascinating concept and Shimmin makes the most of it. The Nazis are even more arrogant than reality circa 1943 and have spent years building kitschy monuments to themselves and their Aryan beliefs. The British are more down-at-heels and their technology never benefited from the innovation of the later war years. As happened between the US and Russia, the peace is maintained by a balance of terror backed by British and German atomic weapon stockpiles.
The protagonist isn't really a hero, he's a man emptied of emotion and ideals by years of brutal combat in the shadows. He's a precision machine built for killing and Shimmin never allows sentiment or emotion to break in and shatter the character. There are two strong female characters, a pacifist member of the German resistance and another agent cashiered because she's grown too old--for a woman, that is. It's nice to see such strong portrayals in a genre all too often dominated by female characters who are defined by bra size and degree of willingness to bed the hero. The other characters are equally well-drawn; Nazis, both power-crazed and lost in the savagery that can arise out of total domination, a Jewish spymaster with wit and guile, and the inbred, elitist spymasters of a very Old School British Secret Service.
A Kill in the Morning is a thriller and thrills is what you get--not a lot of explanation and blather. The action is crisp, well-written, and intense. Shimmin moves the hero (or anti-hero, if you prefer) through well-described locations across Europe and the Middle East and in and out of a intensifying series of dangerous situations. Fans of real and imagined post-war weaponry and airplane design will be particularly pleased with Shimmin's meticulous descriptions. One thing I appreciate (because so few authors do it) is that his battle scenes are done with bullets that don't always miss, guns that occasionally misfire, and injuries that don't conveniently heal after a day in bed.
The writing is fluid and readers will be swept along with the action--do not start this book if you have an important meeting the next morning. I'm not going to spoil any of the twists in the plot--I mean, you didn't expect twists with an alternate history thriller?--but they all make sense and the characters live within this alternate world as completely as you live in yours. An excellent job, especially for a new author, and one that promises more to come. Expect to hear a lot about Graeme Shimmin in the future--I can see a long line of titles on the shelf (what, he's the only one who can have an alternate universe?)
Just don't ask him to design your cover.