The Darkest Hour, Tony Schumacher’s debut novel, can be considered an alternate history of World War II that questions morality. Through the characters’ eyes, readers examine if it is even possible to redeem oneself after committing terrible acts. Could the British people become like the Nazis, and what doors would someone open to survive?
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 groupthink 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 that his wife and son have been killed by a bomb that was meant for the German authorities. He is chosen to work in the Office of Jewish Affairs, created to hunt down and round 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.” In his attempt to help Jacob escape to America, Rossett must battle the Resistance and the Nazis, who have their own agenda for wanting Jacob dead.
At times reactions vary from liking and rooting for certain characters to utter distaste. The author 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, attempting to save his soul by offering Jacob a future, turning from an evil person who assisted in the dirty work to a caring rescuer. Rossett is contrasted with SS Officer Ernst Koehler, who on the surface is very likeable, but in reality is a sinister figure who cares little about human life.
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. This book is a page-turner with engaging characters, plot twists, and an intelligent, thought-provoking storyline.
Read Elise Cooper’s interview with Tony Schumacher here.