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By C.J. Sansom
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1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany. The global economy strains against the weight of the long German war against Russia still raging in the east. The British people find themselves under increasingly authoritarian rule — the press, radio, and television tightly controlled, the British Jews facing ever greater constraints.
But Churchill’s Resistance soldiers on. As defiance grows, whispers circulate of a secret that could forever alter the balance of the global struggle. The keeper of that secret? Scientist Frank Muncaster, who languishes in a Birmingham mental hospital.
Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, a spy for the Resistance and University friend of Frank’s, is given the mission to rescue Frank and get him out of the country. Hard on his heels is Gestapo agent Gunther Hoth, a brilliant, implacable hunter of men, who soon has Frank and David’s innocent wife, Sarah, directly in his sights.
C.J. Sansom’s literary thriller Winter in Madrid earned Sansom comparisons to Graham Greene, Sebastian Faulks, and Ernest Hemingway. Now, in his first alternative history epic, Sansom doesn’t just recreate the past — he reinvents it. In a spellbinding tale of suspense, oppression and poignant love, Dominion dares to explore how, in moments of crisis, history can turn on the decisions of a few brave men and women — the secrets they choose to keep and the bonds they share.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Lamentation
Reading Group Guide
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All events that take place after 5:00 p.m. on 9 May 1940 are imaginary.
Almost all the passengers on the Tube to Victoria were, like David and his family, on their way to the Remembrance Sunday parade. It was a cold morning and the men and women all wore black winter coats. Scarves and handbags were also black, or muted brown, the only color the bright red poppies everyone wore in their buttonholes. David ushered Sarah and her mother into a carriage; they found two empty wooden benches and sat facing each other.
As the Tube rattled out of Kenton Station David looked around him. Everyone seemed sad and somber, befitting the day. There were relatively few older men—most of the Great War veterans, like Sarah's father, would be in central London already, preparing for the march past the Cenotaph. David was himself a veteran of the second war, the brief 1939–40 conflict that people called the Dunkirk campaign or the Jews' war, according to political taste. But David, who had served in Norway, and the other survivors of that defeated, humiliated army—whose retreat from Europe had been followed so quickly by Britain's surrender—did not have a place at the Remembrance Day ceremonies. Nor did the British soldiers who had died in the endless conflicts in India, and now Africa, that had begun since the 1940 Peace Treaty. Remembrance Day now had a political overtone: remember the slaughter when Britain and Germany fought in 1914–18 ; remember that must never happen again. Britain must remain Germany's ally.
"It's very cloudy," Sarah's mother said. "I hope it isn't going to rain."
"It'll be all right, Betty," David said reassuringly. "The forecast said it would just stay cloudy."
Betty nodded. A plump little woman in her sixties, her whole life was focused on caring for Sarah's father, who had had half his face blown off on the Somme in 1916.
"It gets very uncomfortable for Jim, marching in the rain," she said. "The water drips behind his prosthesis and of course he can't take it off."
Sarah took her mother's hand. Her square face with its strong round chin—her father's chin—looked dignified. Her long blond hair, curled at the ends, was framed by a modest black hat. Betty smiled at her. The Tube halted at a station and more people got on. Sarah turned to David. "There's more passengers than usual."
"People wanting to get a first look at the Queen, I imagine."
"I hope we manage to find Steve and Irene all right," Betty said, worrying again.
"I told them to meet us by the ticket booths at Victoria," Sarah told her. "They'll be there, dear, don't worry."
David looked out of the window. He was not looking forward to spending the afternoon with his wife's sister and her husband. Irene was good-natured enough, although she was full of silly ideas and never stopped talking, but David loathed Steve, with his mixture of oily charm and arrogance, his Blackshirt politics. David would have to try to keep his lip buttoned as usual.
The train ground to a jolting halt, just before the mouth of a tunnel. There was a hiss somewhere as brakes engaged. "Not today," someone said. "These delays are getting worse. It's a disgrace." Outside, David saw, the track looked down on rows of back-to-back houses of soot-stained London brick. Gray smoke rose from chimneys, washing was hanging out to dry in the backyards. The streets were empty. A grocer's window just below them had a prominent sign in the window, Food Stamps Taken Here. There was a sudden jolt and the train moved into the tunnel, only to judder to a halt again a few moments later. David saw his own face reflected back from the dark window, his head framed by his bulky dark coat with its wide lapels. A bowler hat hid his short black hair, a few unruly curls just visible. His unlined, regular features made him look younger than thirty-five; deceptively unmarked. He suddenly recalled a childhood memory, his mother's constant refrain to women visitors, "Isn't he a good-looking boy, couldn't you just eat him?" Delivered in her sharp Dublin brogue, it had made him squirm with embarrassment. Another memory came unbidden, of when he was seventeen and had won the inter-schools Diving Cup. He remembered standing on the high board, a sea of faces far below, the board trembling slightly beneath his feet. Two steps forward and then the dive, down into the great expanse of still water, the moment of fear and then the exhilaration of striking out into silence.
Steve and Irene were waiting at Victoria. Irene, Sarah's older sister, was also tall and blond but with a little dimpled chin like her mother's. Her black coat had a thick brown fur collar. Steve was good-looking in a raffish way, with a thin black mustache that made him look like a poor man's Errol Flynn. He wore a black fedora on his thickly brilliantined head—David could smell the chemical tang as he shook his brother-in-law's hand.
"How's the Civil Service, old man?" Steve asked.
"Surviving." David smiled.
"Still keeping watch over the Empire?"
"Something like that. How are the boys?"
"Grand. Getting bigger and noisier every week. We might bring them next year, they're getting old enough." David saw a shadow pass across Sarah's face and knew she was remembering their own dead son.
"We ought to hurry, get the Tube to Westminster," Irene said. "Look at all these people."
They joined the throng heading for the escalator. As the crowd pressed together their pace slowed to a silent shuffle, reminding David for a moment of his time as a soldier, shuffling with the rest of the weary troops onto the ships evacuating British forces from Norway, back in 1940.
They turned into Whitehall. David's office was just behind the Cenotaph; men walking past would still remove their hats as they passed it, respectfully and unselfconsciously, though fewer and fewer with each passing year—thirty-four now since the Great War ended. The sky was gray-white, the air cold. People's breath steamed before them as they jostled—quietly and politely—for places behind the low metal barriers opposite the tall white rectangle of the Cenotaph, a line of policemen in heavy coats in front. Some were ordinary constables in their helmets, but many were Special Branch Auxiliaries in their flat peaked caps and slimmer blue uniforms. When they were first created in the 1940s to deal with growing civil unrest David's father had said the Auxiliaries reminded him of the Black and Tans, the violent trench veterans recruited by Lloyd George to augment the police during the Irish Independence War. All were armed.
The ceremony had changed in the last few years; serving personnel no longer stood on parade around the Cenotaph, blocking the public view, and wooden boards had been laid on blocks behind the barriers to give people a better vantage point. It was part of what Prime Minister Beaverbrook called "demystifying the thing."
The family managed to get a good place opposite Downing Street and the big Victorian building which housed the Dominions Office where David worked. Beyond the barriers, forming three sides of a hollow square around the Cenotaph, the military and religious leaders had already taken their places. The soldiers were in full dress uniform, Archbishop Headlam, head of the section of the Anglican Church that had not split away in opposition to his compromises with the regime, in gorgeous green-and-gold vestments. Beside them stood the politicians and ambassadors, each holding a wreath. David looked them over; there was Prime Minister Beaverbrook with his wizened little monkey face, the wide fleshy mouth downturned in an expression of sorrow. For forty years, since he first came to England from Canada with business scandals hanging over him, Beaverbrook had combined building a newspaper empire with maneuvering in politics, pushing his causes of free enterprise, the Empire, and appeasement on the public and politicians. He was trusted by few, elected by none, and after the death of his immediate predecessor, Lloyd George, in 1945, the coalition had made him Prime Minister.
Lord Halifax, the Prime Minister who had surrendered after France fell, stood beside Beaverbrook, overtopping him by a foot. Halifax was bald now, his cadaverous face an ashen shadow beneath his hat, deep-set eyes staring over the crowd with a curious blankness. Beside him stood Beaverbrook's coalition colleagues: Home Secretary Oswald Mosley, tall and ramrod-straight, India Secretary Enoch Powell, only forty but seeming far older, black-mustached and darkly saturnine, Viscount Swinton, the Dominions Office Secretary and David's own minister, tall and aristocratic, Foreign Secretary Rab Butler with his pouched froggy face, and the Coalition Labour leader Ben Greene, one of the few Labour figures who had admired the Nazis in the 1930s. When Labour split in 1940 Herbert Morrison had led the Pro-Treaty minority that went into coalition with Halifax; he was one of those politicians for whom ambition was all-consuming. But he had resigned in 1943; the degree of British support for Germany had become too much for him, as it had for some other politicians like the Conservative Sam Hoare; all had retreated into private life with peerages.
Also standing in their dark coats were representatives of the Dominions; David recognized some of the High Commissioners from work, like the thickset, frowning Vorster of South Africa. Then behind them came ambassadors representing the other nations who had fought in the Great War: Germany's Rommel, Mussolini's son-in-law Ciano, the ambassadors of France and Japan, Joe Kennedy from America. Russia, though, had no representative; Britain, as Germany's ally, was still formally at war with the Soviet Union though she had no troops to spare for that giant meat-grinder, the German–Soviet war, which had gone on, over a 1,200 -mile front, for eleven years now.
A little way off a group of men stood around an outside-broadcast camera, an enormous squat thing trailing thick wires, BBC emblazoned on the side. Beside it the heavy form of Richard Dimbleby could be seen speaking into a microphone, though he was too far off for David to hear anything.
Sarah shivered, rubbing her gloved hands together. "Golly, it's cold. Poor Dad will feel it standing around waiting for the march past to start." She looked at the Cenotaph, the bare white memorial. "God, it's all so sad."
"At least we know we'll never go to war with Germany again," Irene said.
"Look, there she is." Betty spoke in tones of hushed reverence.
The Queen had come out of the Home Office. Accompanied by the Queen Mother and her grandmother, old Queen Mary, equerries carrying their wreaths, she took her place in front of the Archbishop. Her pretty young face was ill suited to her black clothes. This was one of her few public appearances since her father's death early in the year. David thought she looked tired and afraid. Her expression reminded him of the late King's in 1940, when George VI rode down Whitehall in an open carriage beside Adolf Hitler, on the Führer's state visit after the Berlin Peace Treaty. David, still convalescing from frostbite caught in Norway, had watched the ceremony on the new television his father had bought, one of the first in the street, when the BBC resumed broadcasting. Hitler had looked in seventh heaven, beaming, flushed and rosy-cheeked, his dream of an alliance with the Aryan British at last fulfilled. He smiled and waved at the silent crowd, but the King had sat expressionless, only raising a hand occasionally, his body angled away from Hitler's. Afterwards David's father had said "enough," that was it, he was off to live with his brother in New Zealand, and David would come too if he knew what was good for him, never mind his Civil Service job. Thank God, he added feelingly, David's mother hadn't lived to see this.
Sarah was looking at the Queen. "Poor woman," she said.
David glanced over. He said very quietly, "She shouldn't have let them make her their puppet."
"What alternative did she have?"
David didn't answer.
People in the crowd glanced at their watches, then they all fell silent, removing hats and caps as, across Westminster, Big Ben boomed out eleven times. Then, shockingly loud in the still air, came the sound of a big gun firing, marking the moment the guns had stopped in 1918. Everyone bowed their heads for the two minutes' silence, remembering the terrible costs of Britain's victory in the Great War, or perhaps, like David, those of her defeat in 1940. Two minutes later the field-gun on Horse Guards Parade fired again, ending the silence. A bugler sounded the notes of "the last post," indescribably haunting and sad. The crowd listened, bareheaded in the winter cold, the only sound an occasional stifled cough. Every time he attended the ceremony David wondered that nobody in the crowd ever burst out crying, or, remembering the recent past, fell shrieking to the ground.
The last note died away. Then, to the sound of the "Funeral March" played by the band of the Brigade of Guards, the young Queen bore a wreath of poppies that looked too big for her to carry, laid it down on the Cenotaph, and stood with bowed head. She walked slowly back to her place and the Queen Mother followed. "So young to be a widow," Sarah said.
"Yes." David had noticed a faint smoky tang in the air and, looking up Whitehall for a moment, saw a slight haze. There would be fog tonight.
The rest of the Royal Family laid their wreaths, followed by the military leaders, the Prime Minister and politicians, and representatives of the Empire governments. The base of the stark, simple monument was now carpeted in the dark green wreaths with their red poppies. Then Germany's ambassador, Erwin Rommel, one of the victors of the 1940 campaign in France, stepped forward, trim and military, Iron Cross pinned to his breast, his handsome face stern and sad. The wreath he bore was enormous, larger even than the Queen's. In the center, on a white background, was a swastika. He laid the wreath and stood, head bowed, for a long moment before turning away. Behind him Joseph Kennedy, the veteran American ambassador, waited. It was his turn next.
Then, from behind David, came a sudden shouting. "End Nazi control! Democracy now! Up the Resistance!" Something sailed over the heads of the crowd and crashed at Rommel's feet. Sarah gasped. Irene and some of the other women in the crowd screamed. The steps of the Cenotaph and the bottom of Rommel's coat were instantly streaked with red and for a moment David thought it was blood, that someone had thrown a bomb, but then he saw a paint-pot rattle down the steps onto the pavement. Rommel did not flinch, just stood where he was. Ambassador Kennedy, though, had jumped back in panic. Policemen were reaching for truncheons and pistols. A group of soldiers, rifles at the ready, stepped forward. David saw the Royal Family being hurried away.
"Nazis out!" someone called from the crowd. "We want Churchill!" Policemen were vaulting the barriers now. A couple of men in the crowd had also produced guns and looked fiercely around: Special Branch undercover men. David pulled Sarah to him. The crowd parted to let the police through, and he glimpsed a struggle off to his right. He saw a baton raised, heard someone call out, "Get the bastards!" encouragingly to the police.
Sarah said, "Oh God, what are they doing?"
"I don't know." Irene was holding Betty, the old woman weeping, while Steve was staring at the melee with a face like thunder. The whole crowd was talking now, a susurrating murmur from which the occasional shout could be heard. "Bloody Communists, beat their heads in!" "They're right, get the Germans out!"
A British general, a thin man with a sunburned face and gray mustache, climbed the steps of the Cenotaph, carrying a megaphone, picking his way through the wreaths, and called for order from the crowd.
"Did they get them?" Sarah asked David. "I couldn't see."
"Yes. I think there were just a few."
"It's bloody treason!" Steve said. "I hope they hang the buggers!"
The ceremony continued with the rest of the wreath-laying and then a short service led by Archbishop Headlam. He spoke a prayer, the microphone giving his voice an odd, tinny echo.
"O Lord, look down on us as we remember the brave men who have died fighting for Britain. We remember the legions who fell between 1914 and 1918, that great and tragic conflict which still marks us all, here and across all Europe. Lord, remember the pain of those gathered here today who have lost loved ones. Comfort them, comfort them."
Then came the march past, the thousands of soldiers, many old now, marching proudly along in lines as the band played popular tunes from the Great War, each contingent laying a wreath. As always David and his family looked out for Sarah's father, but they didn't see him. The steps of the Cenotaph were still splotched with red, Rommel's swastika prominent among the wreaths. David wondered who the demonstrators had been. One of the independent pacifist groups perhaps; the Resistance would have shot Rommel, would have shot a lot of the Nazis stationed in Britain, but for the fear of reprisals. Poor devils, whoever they were; they would be getting a beating in a Special Branch Interrogation Centre now, or perhaps even in the basement of Senate House, the German embassy. As it had been an attack on Rommel, the British police might have handed the demonstrators over. He felt powerless. He hadn't even contradicted Steve. But he had to keep his cover intact, never step out of line, try to play the model civil servant. All the more because of Sarah's family's past. David felt a stab of unreasonable irritation against his wife.
His eyes were drawn back to the veterans. An old man of about sixty, his face stern and defiant, was marching past, his chest thrust out proudly. On one side of his coat was pinned a row of medals but on the other was sewn a large, bright yellow Star of David. Jews knew to stay out of the limelight now, not to attract attention, but the old man had defied common sense to go on the march wearing a prominent star, although he could have got away with the little Star of David lapel badge all Jews had to wear now, very British and discreet.
Someone in the crowd shouted out "Kike!" The old man did not flinch but David did, anger coursing through him. He knew that under the law he too should have worn a yellow badge, and should not be working in government service, an employment forbidden to Jews. But David's father, twelve thousand miles away, was the only other person who knew his mother had been that rare thing, an Irish Jew. And half a Jew was a Jew in Britain now; the penalty for concealing your identity was indefinite detention. In the 1941 census, when people were asked for the first time to state their religion, he had declared himself a Catholic. He had done the same thing whenever renewing his identity card, and the same again in the 1951 census, which this time also asked about Jewish parents or grandparents. But however often David pushed it all to the back of his mind, sometimes, in the night, he woke up terrified.
The rest of the ceremony went ahead without interruption, and afterwards they met up with Jim, Sarah's father, and went back to David and Sarah's mock-Tudor semi in Kenton, where Sarah would cook dinner for them all. Jim had known nothing about the paint-throwing until his family told him, though he had noticed the red stain on the Cenotaph steps. He said almost nothing about it on the journey back, and neither did Sarah or David, though Irene and especially Steve were full of outraged indignation. When they got back to the house Steve suggested they watch the news, see what it said about the attack.
David switched on the television, rearranging the chairs to face it. He didn't like the way that in most houses now the furniture was arranged around the set; over the last decade, ownership of what some still called the idiot-box had spread to half the population; having a television was a mark of the sharp dividing line between rich and poor. It was coming to take over national life. It wasn't quite time for the news; a children's serial was on, a dramatization of some Bulldog Drummond adventure story, featuring Imperial heroes and treacherous natives. Sarah brought them tea and David passed around the cigarette-box. He glanced at Jim. Despite his conversion to pacifism after the Great War, his father-in-law always took part in the Remembrance Day parade; however much he loathed war, he honored his old comrades. David wondered what he thought of the paint-throwing, but Jim's prosthetic mask was turned toward him. It was a good prosthesis, close-fitting and flesh-colored; there were even artificial eyelashes on the flat painted eye. Sarah confessed once that when she was small the crude mask he wore then, made from a thin sheet of metal, had frightened her and when he sat her in his lap on one occasion she'd burst into tears and Irene had to take her away. Her mother had called her a nasty, selfish girl but Irene, four years older, had held her and said, "You mustn't mind it. It's not Daddy's fault."
The news came on. They watched the young Queen paying her respects, and listened to Dimbleby's sonorous, respectful reporting. But the BBC did not show the incident with Rommel; they simply passed from the Dominion representatives' wreath-laying to Ambassador Kennedy's. There was a flicker on the screen that you wouldn't notice unless you were looking for it, and no break in the commentary—the BBC technicians must have done a re-recording later.
"Nothing," Irene said.
"They must have decided not to report it." Sarah had come in from the kitchen to watch, flushed from cooking.
"Makes you wonder what else they don't report," Jim said quietly.
Steve turned to him. He was wearing one of his glaringly bright sweaters, his plump stomach straining it unattractively. "They don't want people to be upset," he said. "Seeing something like that happen on Remembrance Day."
"People should know, though," Irene said fiercely. "They should see what these despicable terrorists do. In front of the Queen, too, poor girl! No wonder she's so seldom seen in public. It's a disgrace!"
David spoke up then, before he could stop himself. "It's what happens when people aren't allowed to protest against their masters."
Steve turned on him. He was still angry, looking for a scrap. "You mean the Germans, I suppose."
David shrugged noncommittally, though he would have liked to knock every tooth out of Steve's head. His brother-in-law continued. "The Germans are our partners, and jolly lucky for us they are, too."
"Lucky for those who make money trading with them," David snapped.
"What the devil's that supposed to mean? Is that a dig at my business in the Anglo-German Fellowship?"
David glowered at him. "If the cap fits."
"You'd rather have the Resistance people in charge, I suppose? Churchill—if the old warmonger's even still alive—and the bunch of Communists he's got himself in with. Murdering soldiers, blowing people up—like that little girl who stepped on one of their mines in Yorkshire last week." He was beginning to get red in the face.
"Please," Sarah said sharply. "Don't start an argument." She exchanged a look with Irene.
"All right." Steve backed down. "I don't want to spoil the day any more than those swine have spoiled it already. So much for civil servants being impartial," he added sarcastically.
"What was that, Steve?" David asked sharply.
"Nothing." Steve raised his hands, palms up. "Pax."
"Rommel," Jim said, sadly. "He was a soldier in the Great War, like me. If only Remembrance Day could be less military. Then people mightn't feel the need to protest. There's rumors Hitler's very ill," he added. "He never broadcasts these days. And with the Democrats back in America, maybe changes will come." He smiled at his wife. "I always said they would, if we waited long enough."
"I'm sure they'd have told us if Herr Hitler was ill," Steve said dismissively. David glanced at Sarah, but said nothing.
Afterwards, when the rest of the family had driven off in Steve's new Morris Minor, David and Sarah argued. "Why must you get into fights with him, in front of everyone?" Sarah asked. She looked exhausted; she had been waiting on the family all afternoon, her hair was limp now, her voice ragged. "In front of Daddy, today of all days." She hesitated, then continued bitterly, "You were the one who told me to stay out of politics years ago, said it was safer to keep quiet."
"I know. I'm sorry. But Steve can't keep his damn trap shut. Today it was just—too much."
"How do you think these rows make Irene and me feel?"
"You don't like him any more than I do."
"We have to put up with him. For the family."
"Yes, and go visit him, look at that picture on the mantelpiece of him and his business pals with Speer, see his Mosley books and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion on the bookshelf," David said heavily. "I don't know why he doesn't join the Blackshirts and have done with it. But then he'd have to exercise, lose some of that fat."
Unexpectedly, Sarah shouted. "Haven't we been through enough? Haven't we?" She stormed out of the lounge; David heard her go into the kitchen, and the door banged shut. He got up and began gathering the dirty plates and cutlery onto the trolley. He wheeled it into the little hall. As he passed the staircase he could not help looking up, to the torn wallpaper at the top and bottom of the stairs, where the little gates had stood. He and Sarah had talked, since Charlie died, about getting new wallpaper. But like so much else, they had never got around to it. He would go to her in a minute, apologize, try to close the ever-growing gap a little. Though he knew it could not really be closed, not with the secrets he had to keep.
- "C.J. Sansom has long been one of my favorite writers, but DOMINION may be his most richly imagined book yet: it's a wonderful example of what the novel can do--a through-the-looking-glass glimpse into a world that might have been, and almost was."—Kate Atkinson, New York Times bestselling author of Life After Life
- "Dominion is terrific. And no, this isn't one of those publisher-sponsored blurbs. I just fell in love with it."—Stephen King
- "Sansom has an original and impressive voice. Rich details add depth to the story. Absorbing and richly conceived."—Adam Woog, Seattle Times
- "A dazzling thriller, detailed, absorbing, and rich. The best novel of its kind since Robert Harris's Fatherland."—Charles Cumming, New York Times bestselling author of The Trinity Six
- "Long and engaging. Rich and densely plotted. All too real."—Kirkus (starred review)
- "Intriguing. Page-turning. Delicious."—Library Journal (featured review)
- "Gripping . . . A race-against-time thriller set against an imaginative and internally consistent historical backdrop, the novel should definitely appeal to fans of alternate history, especially the WWII novels of Harry Turtledove or Robert Conroy, and, of course, Robert Harris' classic Fatherland."—Booklist
- "Tremendous."—The Guardian (UK)
- "Masterly."—The Independent (UK)
- "Exciting, sophisticated, and moving. There will be few better historical novels published this year."—The Times (UK)
- On Sale
- Dec 2, 2014
- Page Count
- 656 pages
- Mulholland Books