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Book Review: ‘Dominion’

cj sansom - dominion 18-7-13You know that feeling, it happens once in a while, when you finish reading a book that was so good you want to go back to the beginning and start again? Well, it was like that for me with CJ Sansom’s Dominion.
It was the premise that caught my attention as soon as I read the pre-publication reviews: an alternate history set in Britain in 1952, peace is made with Hitler in 1941 which changes the direction of World War Two. An alternative world. Previously I had read one Sansom novel, Winter in Madrid, which I enjoyed; three of his Matthew Shardlake mysteries sit on my to-read shelf. After Dominion, I will turn to them quickly.
The story focusses on four main characters, a scientist, a civil servant, the civil servant’s wife, and a Gestapo officer based at Senate House in London, the tall university building being the Gestapo’s London HQ with torture cells in the basement. This is a different Britain, where Jews are being rounded-up and transferred to camps in the country, where the Isle of Wight is occupied by the German army [which is still fighting in Russia], and where it is rumoured in Berlin that Hitler is either dead or dying.
To say more would risk spoiling the plot twists, of which there are plenty. The darkness of the time is shown symbolically by the Great Smog which actually happened in London, December 1952. It sheds a stifling blanket of choking fog which stops life and blinds everything more than a foot away. The smog is a metaphor of course for the blindness of the Government, and much of the population, who accept their situation with apathy and do nothing to aid the Resistance led, inevitably, by Churchill.
Sansom’s central message is about the danger of nationalism and xenophobia and what, in the extremes, they can lead to. A subject which, as he says in the Appendices, he fears is all too relevant in modern Europe.
A thought-provoking read.
‘Dominion’ by CJ Sansom