Hitler is Coming: An Alternate History Mystery Short Story
Martin Roy Hill
There’s an interesting tension in all alternate history stories between the story being told – the plot, the characters, the locations and so forth – and the alternate history itself, i.e. the changes in the timeline and how those have affected the world that the characters inhabit. Does the plot serve the alternate history, or does the alternate history serve the plot? It can be a difficult balance to get right by an author: too much focus on counter-factuals can weigh down the narrative with explanations and digressions and result in reams of turgid prose; but not enough explanation of how history changed can lead to reader confusion or even disinterest. There will never be a definitive answer, of course, but personally I usually prefer plot over the alternate history itself, and am often willing to overlook an absence of explanation, or improbable scenarios, if it is able to be allied with a strong plot, good writing and interesting characters. And that’s certainly the case for the title that is the subject of this next, short review: Hitler is Coming: An Alternate History Mystery Short Story by Martin Roy Hill.
I noticed this short story when I was scrolling aimlessly through the Alternate History genre entries on the Kindle marketplace, and was attracted by the cover art, which makes excellent use of contrasting colour tones, crisp, clear font choices, and a well-photoshopped picture of Hitler and Nazi officials walking in front of the White House (actually the famous picture taken by the Eiffel Tower) to create a simple but powerful cover which instantly draws the eye. My interest was aided by the fact that it was on the Kindle Unlimited plan (and a mere £0.99 at time of writing to purchase) and good use of a simple but effective cover blurb – What if Hitler won? In this alternate history story, the Nazis got The Bomb first. Moscow, London, and New York lay in radioactive ruins. There’s more to the blurb, but unlike many indie AH stories I’ve seen, Mr Hill has absolutely nailed the successful blurb – keep it short, punchy and present an attention-grabbing idea to the reader to reel them in.
The Second World War ended early, and it didn’t go the way of the Allies. In 1944, as British, American and Commonwealth forces are grinding their way through Italy, the Third Reich successfully develops nuclear weapons and mates them with experimental missile technology; the results are mushroom clouds over New York, Moscow and London, and the unconditional surrender of the Allied powers. The short story itself is set two years later, in a United States that has been occupied by Nazi forces and is awash with occupation forces and collaborators who now occupy the highest echelons of government. Returning from the radioactive ruins of New York, former FBI and OSS (Office of Strategic Services) agent Paul Klee is informed that the victorious Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, will shortly be visiting Washington D.C., and an assassination plot is expected. Klee must prevent the assassination taking place, despite his hatred of Hitler and the Nazi regime, as the Fuhrer’s death would result in a wave of retaliations against the American public.
The obvious point to make is that a lot of leeway is being taken in regards to history to create the background for this story: the Nazi atomic weapons programme never really got off of the ground due to infighting, a lack of funding and the absence of some of the regime’s best scientists, who had fled abroad during the 1930s; and although the V2 rocket had a significant range, it didn’t have the ability to target London with much accuracy, let alone Moscow or New York. That being said, however, my original point remains – the plot of the short story, the writing and the characterisations, are so good that such an improbable chain of events really doesn’t matter. Klee is a likeable protagonist, down on his luck and bowed to the inevitable Nazi occupation but still fiercely patriotic, and Hill deftly portrays the clash of emotions Klee has around the need to prevent the attempt on Hitler from taking place. His accomplice Bruno, a former member of the German-American Bund and now a high-ranking member of the American SS, is also well-written, a man who was a traitor to his country and has now secured a future for himself, but is so insecure that he lashes out at anyone he sees as below his station in life.
The writing is top-notch and flows really well as the plot progresses, and as it’s a short story there’s no empty padding or information-dumps – everything that has happened up to this point in the story evolves organically. I particularly enjoyed Hill’s integration of pre-war Nazi organisations in the United States into the plot, such as the German-American Bund and the DAWA, as well as the co-option of former American government organisations, such as turning the FBI into a National Police force. And while discussing the latter part of the story would spoil the ending, the author has obviously also done his research on the rivalries between various Nazi intelligence agencies and how they might impede or even deliberately sabotage such an important investigation. Overall, an excellent short story that deserves to be more widely read, and a great example of how to use a slightly looser interpretation of alternate history in the service of a good plot.