The Suicide Exhibition by Justin Richards
WEWELSBURG CASTLE, 1940.
The German war machine has woken an ancient threat – the alien Vril and their Ubermensch have returned. Ultimate Victory in the war for Europe is now within the Nazis’ grasp.
Foreign Office trouble shooter Guy Pentecross has stumbled into a conspiracy beyond his imagining – a secret war being waged in the shadows against a terrible enemy.
The battle for Europe has just become the war for humanity.
I don’t read a massive amount of alternate history, but I have to admit that something about the premise of this novel immediately appealed to me. Secret Nazi schemes involving advanced alien races and the quest for the Nietzschean superman. A plot like that sounds as though it could certainly hold the promise of something entertaining.
Rising against the Nazi/Vril threat are the men and women of Station Z, the British department who exist shrouded in the utmost secrecy. They are tasked with stopping Axis plans by any means necessary, even if that involves working with “the most evil man who ever lived”. There are also a handful of chapters that cover the action from the perspective of the Axis soldiers. These provide a nice counterpoint to the main narrative.
The main character, Guy Pentecross, acts as the reader’s conduit into this shadowy world of espionage and aliens. Naturally gifted and with an ear for languages he has a strong sense of duty and is more than willing to do his bit when it comes to the war effort. He unwittingly finds himself drawn into plans of Station Z and as he learns their secrets he becomes another member of the team who are the Allies last line of defence. I liked Pentecross, he’s like the living embodiment of a stiff upper lip. Terribly British and all that.
Add to that the extra wrinkle of some nicely developed science fiction and the beginnings of an intriguing new series are starting to emerge. This first novel in The Never War is all about setting the scene, revealing the existence of a hidden conflict that is running parallel to the world at war. There are certainly still plenty of tantalising questions left unanswered at novel’s end and I think this will make readers come back for more. I’m not one hundred percent sure, but I suspect this series is going to continue to work within the confines of the established facts of the Second World War. I rather like this approach. It plays up the idea of a secret war within a war.
My only real gripe with the story, and it is a minor one, is that I would have liked to have discovered more of the Vril. Just shy of four hundred pages and I felt like I only got the tiniest glimpse of this alien species. That said, this is book one and I’ll reserve judgment at this early stage. I hope there will be plenty of opportunity to further explore this enigmatic bunch in more depth in future novels.
Justin Richards’ writing does a good job of effectively capturing that boy’s own adventure/World War II radio serial vibe. I have to admit, part of me was almost expecting to hear the strains of the Devil’s Gallop and a plummy voiced announcer, with perfectly executed enunciation, proclaiming “…previously on The Suicide Exhibition”. There is an episodic feel to the novel. It quickly becomes obvious that this is just the first part of something much larger.
The action moves all across the theatre of war, from London to mainland Europe and then on to North Africa. The chapters detailing the action in the German headquarters had me immediately thinking of Where Eagles Dare and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. You can’t beat an isolated schloss in the mountains when it comes to Nazi related shenanigans. The writing is so vivid and action packed that the locations all have a wonderfully evocative feel. The book jacket proudly states that this would be perfect for fans of The Thirty Steps, Indiana Jones and Quatermass, I have to say I’m inclined to agree. If you’re a fan of gritty action novels and enjoy science fiction then this mash-up could well be the book for you.
My interest has definitely been piqued, and I look forward to finding out where things are going next. I can only hope we’ll learn much more of the Vril and their grand designs for humanity.
The Suicide Exhibition is published by Del Rey UK and is available now. A sequel, The Blood Red City, will follow.