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The Darkest Hour
Tony Schumacher

Harper Collins
2015 / ISBN 9780062339362

Reviewed by Elise Cooper


The Darkest Hour, Tony Schumacher's debut novel, has a very intriguing storyline. It can be considered an alternate history of sorts that questions morality. Through the character's eyes, readers examine if it is even possible to redeem oneself after committing terrible acts. What makes this novel very interesting is how the author creates an action-packed plot while still exploring questions such as: Could the British people become like the Nazis; and what doors would someone open to survive?

The author noted that he drew the idea "from a documentary on television. It showed a photograph from the Second World War of an English policeman in the Channel Islands, just off the coast of France, occupied by the Germans. This policeman was holding a car door open for a German officer, where both he and the German officer were smiling. It was a propaganda picture taken by the Germans to show they weren't such bad guys. When I saw the photo, I was momentarily angry with the policeman. I'd been a policeman for ten years, and to me, this officer had disgraced the uniform. But almost immediately, I realized I couldn't think like that. This guy was probably told, 'Open that door and smile. If you don't, you'll get shot. So, open the door.' And to stay alive, he'd done what he was told to do. After all, he might have a family at home and wanted to live. So I began wondering what I would have done in that circumstance. Once you cross that line, it begins to recede. Each time you're told to do something abhorrent, that line moves back a bit more. You compromise your values, your integrity. and you have to weigh how much you want to stay alive against doing something you find despicable."

The plot begins with Germany controlling Western Europe after a pact is signed in 1946. The Germans are occupying Great Britain using brutality, fear, and consensus to control the English. The main character is John Rossett, who won the Victoria Cross for rescuing his fellow soldiers from Dunkirk. After the war he returns home to find his wife and son killed by a bomb that was meant for the German authorities. He is chosen to work in the Office of Jewish Affairs, charged with hunting down and rounding up the Jews for deportation. He attempts to fool himself into believing that they are sent to France as laborers, never questioning, and willingly believing the propaganda. He goes along to get along until he finds Jacob, the grandson of someone he knew. Determined to find redemption and to find a purpose to his life, he decides to save this one boy who "deserved the chance of life and love." Trying to help Jacob escape to America, Rossett must battle the resistance and the Nazis, who have their own agenda for wanting Jacob dead. During this portion of the story, the novel becomes a thriller with non-stop action as well as many twists and turns.

At times emotions vary from liking and rooting for certain characters to utter distaste of them. The author skillfully never allows the reader to forget that, although Rossett is a redeemable hero, he has a sullied past. Does one good action nullify the previous bad ones? This hero is a complex character who is emotionally damaged and attempts to save his soul by offering Jacob a future, turning from an evil person who assisted in the dirty work to becoming a caring rescuer. Rossett is contrasted with SS Officer Ernst Koehler, who on the surface is very likeable, but in reality is a devil in disguise who inwardly cares little about human life.

Tony noted, "A number of scenes had Jacob taking John Henry Rossett's hand. The readers know it is 'dirty,' but Jacob believes John will do the right thing by him. I get the sense readers wanted to hate John, but didn't because of Jacob's view of him. Jacob becomes Rossett's guardian angel giving him some of his soul back, forcing him to explore within himself. Although Jacob is a character who does not speak a lot in the book, he is a thread through the whole story. Jacob made John recognize and confront that monster inside of himself. John carried a lot of guilt and was tortured by his own actions of doing nothing. On the other hand, the German SS Officer, Koehler, had people like him on the surface. They thought of him as charming, but in reality he is a killer, a nightmare."

The Darkest Hour is the first in a series of books about the "German occupation of England." Throughout the thrilling storyline is a moralistic thread. Readers should not question, "what if this did happen," but "could it happen today?" considering the rising anti-Semitism. This book is a page-turner with engaging characters, plot twists, and a very intelligent storyline that is thought provoking.

Reviewed 2015