Title: The Afrika Reich
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Hardback: 430 pages
Publication Date: 17/02/2011
That’s the question at the heart of Guy Saville’s debut novel, The Afrika Reich, a pulse-pounding and action-packed alternative history thriller. It’s a question that has fascinated me from the first moment I sat in a history lesson at school. What if William the Conqueror had lost the Battle of Hastings? Or if Napoleon had been successful? And it’s the use of speculative alternate history scenarios like these that made novels like Len Deighton’s SS-GB and Robert Harris’s Fatherland and Archangel so compelling.
In The Afrika Reich Saville has continued this tradition, utilising the creation of a hypothetical version of our world to explore what might have happened after the disaster of Dunkirk. Thus, in Saville’s novel, public opinion forced Britain into a peace treaty with Hitler and meant that the Americans never entered the war [because there wasn’t a war to enter]. Over a decade later, in 1953, much of Africa is under the brutal control of the SS [who have supplanted the Afrika Korps], with the native population corralled into slave labour and gleaming white autobahns criss-crossing the landscape. And all the while, Britain and America do nothing.
Until ex-French Foreign Legionnaire turned mercenary Burton Cole – a man who grew up in Africa – is offered a contract to assassinate Walter Hochburg, the Governor General of Nazi Africa. But it is not just the money or patriotism that makes Cole take the job. For he and Hochburg share a dark and bloody history . . .
The First and Second World Wars have always fascinated me – something that began at a young age with my voracious reading and enjoyment of Captain W.E. Johns’s Biggles series [even if his rank was self-awarded!] – so The Afrika Reich was a book that had me interested from the moment I first saw its cover. And it definitely did not disappoint. The level of detail and research that Saville brings to bear on this novel is incredibly impressive and really adds to the reader’s experience – with real historical figures rubbing shoulders with fictional characters in an African setting that has been constructed using the Nazis’ actual plans for the region as a template.
However, it was the pace and action that was packed into the book that really made The Afrika Reich such a brilliant read. The milieu of revenge, suspicion, gut-churningly brutal violence and danger permeates off the page, and Cole’s desperate post-assassination escape has the sort of clammy tension that made films like The Great Escape and books like Andy McNab’s Bravo Two Zero so enthralling.
And it would certainly be fair to say that the page-turning speed and the gritty action displayed in this novel are at times as good – if not better – than the fiction of McNab and Chris Ryan. But The Afrika Reich also has believable characters, many of whom have real emotional depth, and this really adds another layer to the novel, making it far more than ‘just another thriller’.
In this novel Nazi characters use a lot of racial stereotyping and racist language that is both graphic and very difficult to stomach. However, even whilst it does make for difficult reading, I think that not including these elements would have been even worse – for it serves as a constant reminder of how evil the Nazi ideologies on race, superiority and ethnic cleansing were.