I must admit I have a fondness for alternative history novels, especially those that depict the second World War. Throw in secret Nazi plots that involve alien technology and that infamous Axis quest to create the Übermensch and you have a formula for a very interesting book indeed. Suicide Exhibition is the start of a series that follows such a plot — here the Übermensch are alien and the Germans will stop an nothing to gain technology to control such power. The aliens are known as the "Vril" and seem to have been around much longer than any suspect.
Guy Pentecross is our man who stumbles across the secret British counter-intelligence unit Station Z, who are trying to unravel this mystery and learns of this secret war within a war. Station Z are tasked with stopping the Axis / Vril by any and all means possible.
Suicide Exhibition is an accomplished novel, managing to blend real world history with the imagined in a way that is almost impossible to see the seams. Station Z was a real, secret location created by the Air Ministry around the time the second world war broke out. Hitler's plans to create the "master race" or Übermensch is well documented and is not restricted to eugenics while the Nazi's interest in the occult is the stuff of legend. It's an interesting idea to take the idea of a partly spiritual "super man" and turn this into a mentally and physically superior creation that has alien origins. There are real people mixed with the imaginary too including the "Most wicked man who ever lived", that influential Brit Alaister Crowley - who it is rumoured was a secret agent of the government during the first and second World Wars.
There is a certain irony that the Allies would seek help against Hitler — a man many still see as the most evil man who ever lived — by employing such as Crowley, who is said to have been influenced by the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, a man who coined the term Übermensch in his publication "Thus Spoke Zarathustra". There are some very good reasons why Crowley assists Station Z, not least his practice of the occult - and it's clearly a very uneasy alliance. Then there is the connection to that finest of institutions, the British Museum which is where we get the title of the book from.
The novel feels very much an adventure in the traditional sense, at times its the British equivalent of an Indiana Jones story but blended with further espionage, alien shenanigans and a very stiff upper lip. We also get treated to the view from the other side for a few chapters and see part of the story from the Axis perspective. The writing is excellent, with a vivid, imaginative prose and a real sense of the dramatic. The pace is swift while the plot keeps the reader on their toes, the transition between Allies and Axis making a welcome break. The characters are perfectly drawn and just how you imagine people from the 1940's.
Suicide Exhibition is everything you could hope for, a twisting plot wrapped around a 1940's ambience that is so sharp you can almost smell the smoke and fear.
Written on 15th May 2015 by Ant.
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