Anthony Markham is a historian, a biographer, and the world’s leading Winston Churchill scholar (“Then again,” Markham says modestly, “bearing in mind Winston Churchill’s current obscurity, it would have been less flattering, though more correct, to describe me as the *only* Churchill scholar”). Returning from a frightening visit to the police state of the USA, where storm troops of President Harry Anslinger gun down a follower of imprisoned playwright and philosopher Ayn Rand — a mousy fellow named Greenspan — before Markham’s shocked eyes, the historian finds a few sheets of paper added to his sheaves of Churchill files. They turn out to be fragments of “the Churchill memorandum,” the washed-up old drunk’s handwritten chronicle of a secret deal between the UK and Germany to push the United States off the world stage and maintain the peaceful and prosperous world so painstakingly created since 1918. But no sooner does Markham find the memorandum than the bullets start flying, and he finds himself running for his life, caught between those who want to publish the memo and those who want to keep it secret forever.
So, this isn’t your usual Winston Churchill novel.
What it is, is an “alternative history” look at a world where Hitler died in a car crash, Hitler’s War was never fought, and in 1959 the British flag still flies serenely over the quarter of the world’s surface blessed to be part of the Queen-Empress’s realms.
In fact, Sir Winston himself doesn’t really have much to do with the tale — not quite a MacGuffin, but close. He’s here mainly to allow the fact of his obscurity to demonstrate how different the world author Sean Gabb has created is from the one you and I live in. Those differences are significant, but this isn’t a utopian or dystopian novel. The differences are subtly introduced, and Gabb doesn’t hit us over the head with how much better [or worse] things would have been “if only….”
There are definitely political aspects to this story — not surprising, given Gabb’s status as one of the UK’s most visible and productive libertarians. Is there a Lesson in these pages? Well, maybe. But if you choose to ignore that and just read this as a political thriller, you’d still get an lot out of it and have, I think, a good time doing it. Many of the characters in the book — including nearly everyone in the climactic scenes — are figures from mid-twentieth-century British political history (read “The Churchill Memorandum” with Wikipedia handy if you’re not that familiar with this era), and I imagine the author enjoyed the opportunity to paint some of them in unflattering — though not, I think, inaccurate — hues. It’s not a long book, but it’s well-crafted, fast paced, and often surprisingly funny. It works, as they say, on many levels. And if it gets you thinking about politics and How Things Could Be Different, then maybe that makes it even better.
© 2014 – 2017, seangabb.
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