The Bottom Line: An immersive, masterful work of alternate history that fans of Phillip K. Dick and Robert Harris will love.
In the annals of alternative history, few subjects have captured the collective imagination as fervently as Adolf Hitler. Nearly 80 years after his remains were found in a bunker as the Allies closed in, the prospect of Hitler’s survival has been the subject of countless fictional accounts. Most prominently, Fatherland, The Man in the High Castle and the Amazon Prime series Hunters famously envision scenarios in which Hitler outwitted his enemies and influenced world events far beyond the end of World War II.
Stephen Maitland-Lewis’ Legacy of Atonement is the latest novel to imagine Hitler’s escape from death. As the book opens in 1959, an unexpected visitor arrives at the doorstep of former CIA operative Daniel Lavy. Daniel’s cousin, Giselle, explains that she was fired from her job at a Swiss bank after supposedly mishandling a wire transfer. Now facing homelessness, she pleads for Daniels help to get her job back. Despite his scathing criticism of Giselle’s financial responsibility, Daniel recoils at the thought of her returning to work, as he is well-aware of the bank’s reputation as a den of anti-semites.
As it turns out, the wire transfer in question was far from ordinary. It’s the first clue that leads Daniel to fly around the world at his own expense in search of the truth. His investigation takes him from Geneva to Hong Kong, to China and Tibet, to Argentina and Paraguay and Washington D.C. It’s a journey that will lead to the discovery of a film in which Hitler, Eva Braun are clearly lounging poolside with Josef Mengele after the war. And most striking of all, Daniel – who is Jewish, and believes that his sons were kidnapped – recognizes his own children with the infamous German leader. This stunning artifact, in combination with several other clues, leads to the discovery of a plot by the CIA to install Hitler, who is still alive and hiding in South America, as the leader of Western Europe.
Maitland-Lewis takes his time developing the plot, and his patience as a storyteller shines throughout as he gradually reveals not only the truth through Daniel’s investigation, but also his hero’s emotionally resonant backstory. His crisp prose conveys a sense of immediacy even in the early going, as he builds Daniel and Giselle into richly developed characters. By the latter third of the novel, the pace picks up en route to an unforgettable conclusion. Highly recommended.