In his acknowledgements at the back of this debut novel Schumacher gives credit to;
“the men, women and children who fought and died in the darkest hours mankind has ever known. Your sacrifice inspired and gave us all a free voice.
I hope I used it well.”
And do you know what– he has. In this alternate-history thriller Schumacher recreates the time after the Second World War, a world where the Nazis successfully invaded Britain and have installed Oswald Moseley as Prime Minister, with the previous administration in exile in Canada.
John Henry Rossett, whose heroics in the war earned him the nickname “The British Lion” has been transferred to the department of Jewish Affairs. Not one to question orders his job has been to discover groups of Jews and arrange for their deportation out of the country. He believes they are being sent to Poland to work. A routine operation on a dingy property changes his life for good as an elderly Jew from his past recognises in Rossett some sense of charity and humanity which fear of the present regime had not beaten out and pleas for his help. Not everyone makes it onto the train and that is the start of Rossett’s adventure.
I found this really quite gripping and it was tense until the final words of the novel. Rossett, by not obeying orders finds himself in danger not only with his immediate employers in the SS, but also the Gestapo, the British Resistance, Royalists and Communists. This is a world where no-one can be trusted and everyone will do what it takes to stay alive. There’s a good cast of characters and there seems to be a lot of mileage in Rossett, a man damaged by the murder of his wife and son in the days after the Invasion in a bomb planted by the British Resistance. His life has shut down to the point where he follows orders without question and joins the Nazi Party to keep his job and avoid the beginning of the decline which could see him unemployed and sent to work in a labour camp on defences against the Russians.
There’s plenty of action, in fact in a couple of places, the action is so detailed that it slows down the plot but the story being told here is a simple tale of human survival and escape, and it’s a good one. Set in a London of foggy nights, dingy pubs and people looming in the shadows all serves to crank up the tension.
Schumacher, residing just outside Liverpool is one of those people who have done so many different things that really they just have to become writers. He has worked as a Policeman for ten years, an actor and stand-up comedian, taxi driver, bouncer the list goes on. You can tell he’s someone who’s spent a lot of time around people as he is able to flesh out his characters in a way in which a lot of writers in the adventure book genre find difficult to do. On his website at tonyshoey.com he expresses his willingness to arrange Skype calls with book clubs and writing groups and I think any reading group with a predilection for a novel with thrills and spills will do well to seek this one out.
I have already lined up his soon to be published follow-up “The British Lion” to be read and I hope it maintains the standard set by this first book.
“The Darkest Hour” was published in the UK by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins in 2014.