“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”

Of late my time has been spent in a fairly monotonous routine, working in the shop in the wee hours of the morning, and then coming home to write more job applications and receive even more rejections. But a glimmer of light was delivered at the close of last week in the form of a lovely parcel from Amazon. It contained two books, “Napoleon in America” by Shannon Selin, and “A Kill in the Morning” by Graeme Shimmin. Both are alternate history/fiction, a genre I first really started paying attention to when I read C.J. Samson’s “Dominion” last summer. While a wide reader by nature, it has been a real delight to read these works that I may not have otherwise picked up.

Shimmin’s “A Kill in the Morning” is a real page turner, and an insane read to boot – I mean that in the best possible way. Imagine a Fleming-esque assassin, only on steroids, and pitch him against the Nazis in a Cold War/Star Wars era where WWII ended in 1941, and this is what you get. People may say that Shimmin’s nameless assassin is a loosely veiled 007, but at no point does the novel pretend it’s not in this vein, a very brave thing in itself, and ultimately it pays off. It captures the nuances of the shadowy world of intelligence, using real history and figures to inform how such organisations in this alternative 1950s would play out, and feels very real as a result. I love reading espionage yarns, as much as I do classic war stories in the style of Maclean or Higgins, and this is a wonderful combination of the two, with a dash of spice thrown in towards the end (but you’ll have to read it for yourselves to work out what I refer to). I couldn’t put this down, each character uniquely drawn and carried by the plot on a rollercoaster ride from beginning to end. The only thing I didn’t like was reaching the final page… guess I’ll be signing up to Shimmin’s free short story email!

Selin’s “Napoleon in America” is something else. History knows that Napoleon passed away in exile on Saint Helena in 1821, but until that day there were numerous plots by various parties to rescue him, including a very early submarine; the novel is a point of divergence in itself, imagining what would have happened if Napoleon did escape, with the assistance of the Gulf Pirates. Crucially, Selin places the story not only with the Bonapartes in New Orleans and the American people, but also with the powers of Europe, including those against the Bourbons, and we get to see how Selin imagines them reacting. For someone such as myself, who in one memorable seminar during my studies found myself taking the reins of Germany in a refighting of WWI as we would have done it, exploring what might have been is equally as exciting as what actually happened, and Napoleon’s lifetime affords us a number of these. But of these, a second escape from exile is difficult to resist, especially given his known belief in destiny and the rich tapestry of historical figures to draw upon at that time. As Selin’s narrative progressed I couldn’t help but smile as I read it, and as with Shimmin, I was a little saddened upon reaching the end. It had built so nicely, the denouement satisfying, and it left me wanting more.

Two very good investments for the umpteenth of my bookcases here, both taking me away from a bleak outlook and giving me great pleasure in consuming them. Hemingway was right: there is no friend more loyal than a book.






About Peter Smith

A voracious reader, Peter Smith is an editorial assistant with an unhealthy passion for tea, ballroom dancing, cake decorating (and eating), and photography. Fortunately not all at the same time.
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