Monday, 26 May 2014



Tight Connections to My Heart


The house is dark. It feels like twilight, about time to turn on a light or two although it’s not even noon. I’m ensconced on the front porch enshrouded in a cloud of grey cigarette smoke, watching the hard pewter rain and listening to the downspouts gargle and spit. A dreary Monday in May. Pinpointing what year we’re nearly in the middle of seems somehow elusive.


‘Full Moon and Empty Arms,’ a hit for Frank Sinatra at the close of World War II and later covered in 1961 by Canada’s Sir Lancelot, Robert Goulet, is streaming at Bob Dylan’s official web site ( His Bobness is the invention of one Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, MN. And His Bobness has been ceaselessly reinventing himself for half a century; Dylan makes David Bowie’s guises appear rational and stable. Or stale. Currently I think of Dylan as the self-appointed curator of all things Americana, music certainly, and possibly baseball and heavyweight boxing for all I know. Even God ponders upon what moves through that mysterious mind. What confounds about the new song is not that it’s a dusty standard, but the voice. It is not the croak and growl we’ve either come to tolerate or despise since the start of the Neverending Tour in the 1980s. His warm, smooth tone is shockingly similar to ‘Lay Lady Lay’ or ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,’ music written and sung over 40 years ago. The forthcoming album is called Shadows in the Night.


We hosted an impromptu party last Saturday night. Mostly to welcome Edmonton’s semblance of spring and her mosquitoes, but if anyone asked why I said it was Bob Dylan’s 72nd birthday. No easy listening compilations for the guests. Inspired by ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms’ I made sure Nashville Skyline was in the CD player. That album kicks off with Dylan and Johnny Cash reprising ‘Girl From the North Country’ which originally appeared on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. (Tangent: I have a lovely bootleg version of Keith Richards doing this song solo complete with a guitar error and a quietly whispered “Fuck!” but he keeps going.)


Here in the city, provided the sun ever shines again, the nights are getting long. Darkness falls around 10 o’clock. A fitting place for another visit from a north country girl. Neil Young’s new album A Letter Home comes out tomorrow (currently streaming at He covers ‘Girl From the North Country;’ if Dylan mostly barks and grrs these days, Neil mews and purrs – in fidelity so low that Alan Lomax’s Library of Congress field recordings of American rural blues and folk musicians from the Great Depression sound like Pono remasters.


And then on a day like today, there is Gordon Lightfoot’s astoundingly blue ‘Early Morning Rain’ which Neil does on A Letter Home and which Dylan covered years ago on Self Portrait. With apologies to the Band (‘It Makes No Difference’), Blue Rodeo (any Jim Cuddy ballad) and Lou Reed (anything, although New Sensations is surprisingly light-hearted), it was to be my death song. Most guys think about sex; I thought about suicide. I always heard it standing alone in the garage and contemplating the orange power cord, the ceiling joists and the dusty, disused hunter green lawn chair – I would leave footprints when I kicked it over. I’ve gone to bed a few times with a carving knife or a bayonet. No matter how much whiskey and beer I’d drunk I couldn’t manage more than a pinprick between two of my ribs. A dot of blood. I couldn’t grasp the hilt in my fists and thrust down, twist the blade and churn up my insides. A botched job would’ve lead to years of embarrassment, or worse, hours of therapy for such a selfish sin. Maybe it’s not so bad to be an uncommitted coward. ‘Early Morning Rain’ reminds me of my all time favourite song in the world, the Stones ‘Tumbling Dice,’ in that you can never ever have too many versions.

It’s 2014. New albums by Dylan and Neil on the way. Their music keeps coming after all these years, this is no small grace. I must listen some more and keep on keeping on. The sun will shine through the rain here eventually; the grass is greening and winter’s on hold for at least another four months. Maybe five.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014



Eavesdropping on the Best and the Brightest


SCENE: Mary is sitting alone in a plush, moodily lit and remote banquette in the Super Elite Platinum Premium First Class Exclusive Star Alliance Executive lounge in a major North American international airport. She is ensconced in a private reverie until her daydream of simpler, bucolic times is banished by the interruption of a suave, sharp-dressed man. meGeoff does not move in these dizzy, high flight circles. However, with a little help from our friends at CSEC and NSA, we were able to listen in because both parties left their iPhones on.


Deepak: Hi, my name’s Deepak. Mind if I join you? Can I buy you a drink?


Mary: Uh, sure, but everything’s free. My name’s Mary, by the way.


D: Free stuff. Love it. If you can’t give it away, overcharge, right? That’s my motto. Pleasure to meet you.


M: Likewise. You seem awfully cheery.


D: Living the dream on other people’s money.


M: So tell me, what do you do, Deepak?


D: I’m head of Canada Post Corporation.


M: Must be pretty neat to run a monopoly.


D: You’ve heard of me! It’s been brilliant, actually. I’ve raised prices by something like 30-per-cent and cut service. Soon, very soon I won’t have to deliver a single piece of mail to a single individual address in Canada. I’m going to have everything dropped at some inconvenient central point in various neighbourhoods or wherever and let the people fend for themselves. A master stroke if I myself may say so. Not to boast…


M: Indeed! How’d you spin it to the public?


D: I was quite forthright and transparent. I said rather frankly that all Canadians, especially the elderly and disabled, could use the exercise walking to these distant points of centrality. During the winter they could cross-country ski.


M: And there was no backlash?


D: That’s the beauty of heading up a crown corporation. Technically I’m accountable to Canadian taxpayers and some federal minister from some department or other but the reality is in fact the exact opposite. Shareholders can’t revolt. There are no activist investors to fend off. The minister’s thinking about next year’s election. Our business is whatever I want it to be. I mean, mail delivery is so old school. It’s been a pretty sweet deal, let me tell you.


M: Sounds like it. I’m dealing with some backlash issues myself these days.


D: Oh? Tell me more.


M: I’m CEO of General Motors, by the way. Washington just slapped us with a $35-million fine.


D: Ouch! Ain’t that a kick in the head.


M: It’s nothing really; we make that much if not more in a single day. But Congress, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are all sniffing around. I mean, we just paid Washington back for bailing us out in 2008, which was before my time by the way, but c’mon, gimme a break here. And it’s no help that we’ve recalled over 15 million vehicles already this year. So far.


D: I did get an e-mail about my new Cadillac Escalade. Haven’t read it yet.


M: Whatever you do, do NOT sit in the passenger seat!


D: I’m the driver, Mary, always have been.


M: No issues with the ignition switch?


D: Erm, no. Why do you ask?


M: No reason.


D: Sounds like you’ve a lot on your plate. Another drink? How are you spinning this unseemly publicity to the little people - your customers, shareholders and the authorities – the powers that be?


M: Oh, the usual: middle management incompetence and that none of this technically happened on my watch, well, some of it did, just a teensy bit but I didn’t know. What’s troubling is that at least 13 road fatalities have been linked directly to GM products; that really hurts our brand image. Cars and trucks should be about dream fulfillment. That’s what we really make and sell. Dreams. Not the big sleep. So some of the parts don’t work properly, I mean, c’mon, let’s see you outsource fussy technical work to an impoverished Third World country. Just try it sometime. It’s hard to save a nickel.


D: Dead customers aren’t return customers, are they? Maybe you care too much about them, these so-called customers? I stopped worrying about them a long time ago. As for employees, well, the odd dog bite is nothing to fret about. The good thing is that, wait for it, no letter carrier’s gone postal lately!


M: Oh, Deepak, I haven’t laughed so hard in ages! And I could really use that second drink.


D: I like you, Mary. I like you a lot. It just occurred to me that maybe there are existing synergies between our two respective companies.


M: Umm, are you talking merger?


D: Think of it like this. My vision for Canada Post is parcel delivery. So much so that I’m prepared to compete against a courier company I already operate! Isn’t that ironic? But as far as I’m concerned, the bigger the parcel, the better. It’s not even June and you’ve recalled 15 million vehicles. What if Canada Post became your carrier of choice? Naturally we wouldn’t return any cars or what have you to dealerships or factories but to some point of convenient centrality for GM like Delaware or New Mexico – forgive me, I’m terrible with maps, routes, locations – I can’t even name all 16 Canadian provinces - hey, some people are bad with names.


M: I don’t know, Deepak. There could be a potential culture clash between our two firms. Sure we’ve siphoned public money just like you, but the reality is that we can take months, even years before deciding to issue a recall.


D: You want slow, Mary? It takes me five days or longer to deliver a simple envelope to nowhere. At an inflated price! Beat that. We’re on the same page. I’m talking a snail’s pace. Speaking of which… What time’s your flight? Shall we share a plate of escargot?


M: And a little wine, Deepak, a little wine. Red, of course.

D: Naturally. What better choice to toast our losses for this fiscal quarter? Perhaps an indifferent Cabernet, old friend, with a hint of nut?

Monday, 19 May 2014


Hail Mary, Full of Grace

The Habs are starting their third string goalie, some kid named Dustin from Saskatchewan.

Smoke 'em and drink 'em if you got 'em or go out and get 'em before the puck drops. Jesus, this is going to be some kind of night.



The Sky Fell Down Today


The news is barely three hours old. Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price will not play again in the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers. You have to think that Price’s right knee, which he re-injured during the Winter Olympics and wrenched again Saturday afternoon in a suspect collision, will now be a chronic concern for the duration of his career. Even Bobby Orr couldn’t play every game on just one leg.


Prior to game one, it was pick ‘em on paper, two similar teams with speed, a little grit and great goaltending. An aura of destiny was beginning to surround the Habs although it was too soon to speak it. The 7-2 spanking and Price not starting the third period Saturday afternoon were causes of mild alarm. Then again, a post-Bruins letdown seemed inevitable. Anyway, the Habs lost the first game of the 1979 Stanley Cup final to New York before taking the next four so perhaps the universe was unfolding as it should.


And then this morning following a fine long weekend and game day breakfast of ham hash and scrambled eggs doused with Louisiana hot sauce: the apocalypse, the end of days, catastrophe. A great wailing moan of despair for now we are surely doomed. Our best player is done and so are our chances. Teeth must be gnashed; wrists must be slit.

And yet, gutting out eight more wins through a maximum of 13 games is not impossible. Could happen. Maybe backup Peter Budaj has cut a deal with Ol’ Scratch. Could have. Maybe the Canadiens are destined to win it all no matter what. Could be.

Friday, 16 May 2014


Song of the 21st Century Privileged White Male

You know it’s been hard for we two
I’ve strived for acceptance - just like you
You may seethe for just being born
For me existence is the daily norm
Now you want me to call you xe
Not him, not her, nor she nor he
My vocabulary is a sort of weapon
As I spew the lexicon of oppression
But not every word is necessarily political
Perhaps I’m insensitive, maybe cynical
You seem to dream of generic utopia
Where everyone sees with grey myopia
All those countless nasty inferences
As you whinge about our differences
So I’ll never walk a mile in your shoes
As they’re not in a style I’d ever choose
Honey, how you dress is your affair
Though I’d rethink the cut of your hair
Behold! The patriarchal bogeyman
Pushing a mower, with a farmer’s tan
Fairy rings and dandelions matter
Not your idiot pronoun chatter
Your issues, yep, they’re the real deal
I've been shopping for a new fifth wheel
Big new toys, hell, they’re my life
Because I married trouble and strife
And I didn’t write this to put you down
Because I believe in what comes around
But no parlez the tongue of your tribe
You make up words to keep me outside
Yet, all you really, really want to be
Is an average guy – just like me

Wednesday, 14 May 2014



Here We Go Again


A brief recap of the Montreal-Boston series on the day of the seventh and deciding game: we’re trussed up as firmly as a masochist in a dungeon at three wins apiece; both teams have an overtime victory; both goalies own a shutout; the team that scores first has taken every game to date. Historically the Canadiens hold a five to three edge in the eight game sevens they have played against the Bruins.


History matters. While the macro morals of its stories often remain unheeded, it informs our prejudices and may taint an entire state. Closer to home it is fertilizer for clan and family feuds, oxygen for bad blood between rival sports clubs. Yet history doesn’t happen until it does and doesn’t exist until it’s done. Bruce Springsteen sang, ‘There’s just winners and losers and don’t get caught on the wrong side.’

And so, game seven tonight: bleu, blanc et rouge versus the black and gold; the laundry’s little changed through the years. I wish Guy Lafleur was still playing for us. I wish Bobby Orr still played for Boston. But it’s the 21st century now (something I realized whilst trying to buy a ribbon for my Smith-Corona typewriter). And so for tonight, here’s hoping petty history will be made by a new Montreal hero or a new Boston goat.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014



The Deadly Spring


I read somewhere once that odours are actually inhaled molecules of matter. They are in you forever, particles absorbed into your very flesh. I suppose our pasts are similar, rife with matter and matters we’re destined to carry with us forever. These things may give us cancer or cause us to remember. I know things. I know some terrible things. Sometimes I don’t know anything at all. Lately I’ve been taking a break from this great dirty world, a sabbatical, a hiatus from killing, maybe a lacuna if you went to Harvard or McGill and paid attention to your English prof.


The name is Danger, Geoff Danger. I’m just a man with a chip on his shoulder and a gun on his hip. I wish things didn’t have to be this way. But here I am, Oxford comma and all, and there you are.


Spring has come to the city. But it’s knocking at the door, afraid to come in and be the life of the party. Ann Fatale, my gorgeous and bosomy blonde moll, has been digging in our garden dirt. I’ve been helping, such rich black loam beneath my fingernails. It’s passing strange to bury something that will live and grow - as opposed to planting a stiff rotten meat smorg four feet down for the earthworms. A trowel tops a spade. Such is life.


I should’ve known our idyll couldn’t last. We sipped mint juleps on the front porch as the afternoon waned, the front door open, Charlie Parker on the hi-fi. I wished I could have heard him blow saxophone in a club on 52nd Street. I drank in the profile of my girl, smiling and smoking. Maybe I felt this happy when I was baptized, too long ago to remember though. Anyway, I’d yet to grow up and be slain by Ann Fatale.


Our neighbour is an eccentric fellow who doesn’t talk much sense. In some mystical way he has come to terms with the cosmos and his place in it: ‘So much to do and so little time. Why bother?’ I envy him that. He is also aged and infirm, and as such employs a snow removal and yard service. When the blowers started up I couldn’t hear Bird and Miles toot their way through ‘Ornithology.’ And didn’t last fall’s leaves tumble and skitter beneath the fence into Ann’s freshly turned garden, onto our swept walkway and newly raked lawn. Ann looked dismayed. Something had to be done.


I stood up abruptly and excused myself. Downstairs in the workroom I selected a three-foot crowbar, a nicely balanced and versatile lethal piece of steel. I returned to the porch. ‘Where you going with that crowbar, baby?’ Ann breathed in that husky whiskey tone I adore.


‘Best you go inside for a few minutes,’ I grunted, sizing up the yard man next door absorbed in making a mess on our property. He was wearing ear protection, he wouldn’t hear me coming, wouldn’t know what hit him.


‘Baby? Before you do that, would you mind freshening my drink?’

‘I can do that.’


‘And baby?’


‘Yeah, doll, what is it?’


She thrust her empty glass toward me. ‘Are we broke? Do we have money problems?’


‘Not at all,’ I replied.


‘Then don’t chintz on the bourbon.’


I put the crowbar down and followed Ann’s orders. When I came back out with her mint julep the yard man was furiously cleaning up debris on our side of the property line. He kept staring at Ann with puppy dog eyes, his tongue lolling. ‘What did you do?’ I grunted.


She fluttered her baby blues at me. ‘I know how to talk to boys, darling.’


‘You sure do, doll.’ That much was true.


‘And anyway,’ she sighed, ‘if you’d beaten him to death, how could he get any work done?’

She had me there. She had me a long time ago. And I could put the stylus back at the beginning of the Charlie Parker disc, play it once more on this fine spring day.

Monday, 12 May 2014



The Devil and Carey Price


A childhood friend visiting our old hometown Montreal dispatched an important e-mail yesterday. He met Elmer Lach, the Montreal Canadiens star who’d centred Rocket Richard and Toe Blake, the legendary Punch Line. When Elmer Lach scored his overtime and Stanley Cup winning goal against Boston in 1953 the Rocket jumped for joy and promptly broke his teammate’s nose. Alas, the Nokomis (SK) Flash is now nearing his tenth decade and will not be on the ice tonight against the Bruins.


The Canadiens are down three games to two in this best of seven series. But we believe there was good mojo in yesterday’s meeting and magical handshake. Tonight’s game is not about living to die another day, it’s just another hurdle along the way of going all the way. There is of course the lurking spectre of heartbreak and the official end of winter if the Habs are eliminated.


Every fall I have this fantasy of encountering gorgeous blonde female twins less than half my age wearing revealing Nazi uniforms and… Whoa! Wrong blog! Every fall I have this fantasy that the Canadiens will go 82-0 through the regular season and then 16-0 through the playoffs. Not a total steamroll though, there would be some touch and go drama to keep things interesting, a comeback from a three goal deficit once in a while, an OT win here and there. This scenario might not suit some people, but that’s their problem. I’m at loose ends about tonight’s tilt. Do we stay in or go out to watch it? Which cap do I wear? Which jersey? Or nothing? Maybe I watch the game naked? Right blog, folks… Whatever I choose to do must necessarily affect the game’s outcome.


But maybe not. I’ve had these visions of Habs goaltender Carey Price on the rodeo circuit last summer. There is a dilapidated barn somewhere in northern British Columbia. It is an eerie place, it resembles Dracula’s mansion. Local children believe it is haunted; they are afraid to approach. Inside the barn is a remote, shadowed stall. It’s in a rear corner and it doesn’t matter how bright the lights are, doesn’t matter if you’ve a six battery flashlight. There is the smell of hay and feed. And something else. Sulphur? Inside that stall is a black stallion, ebony, jet, a cosmic darkness oscillating like the feathers in the wings of circling ravens. This horse is the beast in the Book of Revelations, the unspeakable creature who carries the riders of the apocalypse. Like the British royal family, it has a fine set of teeth. And like Mr Ed, it talks.


‘Do you want it all in 2013-14, Carey? Olympic men’s hockey gold and the Stanley Cup?’


‘Hey! You’re in fine fettle. I’m a horse whisperer! Want a carrot or an apple?’


‘Um, thanks, but no. Actually, I’ve had this hankering for every edible cereal grain available on the entire continent of Africa. I’ve some other business there too. Anyway, where was I? Right! Do you want it all in 2013-14, Carey? Olympic men’s hockey gold and the Stanley Cup?’


‘Yes, yes I do. I’d like that. I’d really love that.’


‘Can do, but it will cost you.’


‘Hey! I’m a pro athlete! Money’s no object! I make millions.’


‘Ah, well, money’s not really a currency I trade in.’


‘Bonus! Let’s do it!’

Please, God.

Saturday, 10 May 2014



Whoops! Yikes! Sorry!


When I was growing up every basement everywhere had a dartboard. As I’ve grown up, it seems every pub everywhere has a dartboard or two too. The pocked walls around the round targets have always amused me: you may miss the bull’s eye, but the concentric circles as well?


And then there is Target in Canada. The Globe and Mail this week reported that the American retailer could be like a back alley dalliance – it may pull out, or not. Industry analysts describe the Minneapolis retailer’s 2013 expansion into Canada as ‘more than a nagging headache.’ The company maintains it’s committed to its Canadian customers for the long term, a phrase that’s become meaningless in modern business. Corporate reality for boards and shareholders is akin to a teenager sucking on the tar of a re-fired roach: It’s been a minute and still nothing’s happened.


Most Canadians live along the 49th parallel. Cross-border shopping is standard operational procedure for many of us. We want goods at prices that may only be found south of the Medicine Line. Target possessed that mystical cachet even though it’s just another discount department store like Wal-Mart, albeit with a superior graphic identity and slightly higher thread counts in its purveyed linens. The excitement amongst consumers with outstanding credit card balances and in the business sections of our two national newspapers was fever pitch in 2013. Target! Salvation was coming, all wrapped up in distinctive red and white packaging – right down to the store fixtures!


In the cool blue north the last of this country’s five-and-dimes was withering. Alan Thicke wasn’t pitching Zellers on TV anymore. The Hudson’s Bay Company had ignored its adopted bastard child retail chain, one which made Saan stores, Rossy’s and Value Village seem like Holt’s, tres haute mode. So Target pounced, ingesting the leases for a bunch of shabby facilities in second-rate malls. But hell, white shelves and a little red paint go a long way. Anyway, the fix was in: Canadians loved Target already.


The national launch staggered around like me on a Sunday morning, a store here and another one there. As Target lurched from province to province, city to city, it became apparent that there must be a great billowing slit in the fabric of space and time. These weren’t Targets at all. No! They were Soviet GUM department stores, complete with high prices and nothing on the white shelves.

In retrospect, the grand promises could never be met; the hype could never be matched. And there is an element of hubris here, one almost of classical tragedy proportions. Inexplicably the dawn of the mighty, mighty bull’s eye did not compel the established and even fusty competition in this country to quake in their Sorel Snowlions and turn heel. And lo, it came to pass that Canadians preferred their Canadian Tire money to Target’s red 5-per-cent discount cards. Red of course is an angry colour to corporate CPAs. And while paper scrip may be forged, there is no existing customer database to be breached by hackers.

Friday, 9 May 2014



Oh No, Not You Again


Oh my shattered nerves. The Montreal-Boston playoff is knotted at two games apiece. The game tally could easily be 3-1 for either club. It’s been that kind of series, tough on the ticker and hard on the nerves. Needless to say, real life ceases to be for three hours come game time.


The Canadiens have played hockey for 105 winters, the Bruins 90. This year marks the 34th time these two teams have faced off against each other in the post-season. To note that the franchises have a history with one another is to understate the nature of their rivalry. The clubs compliment each other in a weird way, like LOVE and HATE knuckle tattoos. The Habs need the B’s just as good requires evil for its very existence.


It is springtime. The grass is greening. Buds are bulking up, ready to burst with leaves and petals. But to truly feel alive, a Montreal fan must fixate on Boston’s black and gold, and seethe with the obsessive hatred of an Ahab or Iago. This is the stuff of life even if the Canadiens will never engrave my name on the Stanley Cup, nor replace the carpet I’ve paced a trough into nor thank me for the money I’ve pissed away on Habs merchandise.


Dear me. There’s a Rocket Richard figurine on my bedroom bureau. And another one downstairs surrounded by seven or eight other Montreal skaters. There are five different Habs sweaters hanging in the closet beneath a shelf with two logo caps and a team toque. There’s a CH emblem on my disposable lighter. A miniature red home sweater hangs from my key chain. There’s a shelf of biographies and coffee table books and old games on DVD because being immersed in the past is healthy, okay? As for the fridge magnets, the coffee mugs, beer mugs and pictures on the wall – best not to go there.

I repainted a large portion of the basement this week. There’s nary a swatch-sized suggestion of bleu, blanc or rouge. I thought this was a pretty positive step, I mean, I’m not psycho-hardcore or anything. After all, it’s just pro sports. Entertainment. Hockey. Just the playoffs. Just Boston. And tomorrow will be just another Saturday night. No question.

Monday, 5 May 2014



meGeoff’s Guide to World War II Alternate History Novels


Nazis make the best bad guys. Theirs was a repulsive ideology marketed to the masses of a disenfranchised nation via the elevated art forms of propaganda, grandiose public works, graphic design and of course state-sanctioned thuggery and genocide. The title of Studs Terkel’s brilliant oral history of World War II “The Good War” is neither oxymoronic nor ironic. The Nazis needed their asses stomped but good.


But what if the hinge of fate had swung a little differently? What if the crucibles of the conflict had been well met by the other side? What if the Luftwaffe had won the Battle of Britain? What if the greatest seaborne invasion in history was Operation Sea Lion rather than Overlord? These works of alternate history, with the benefit of hindsight, imagine the triumph of the totalitarian will.


Alternate history requires craft; the new facts must be plausible enough to bid readers to suspend their sense of disbelief because we are looking back and not ahead into 1984. The latest addition to the genre is C.J. Sansom’s Dominion (2012). The story is set in London in 1952. Britain since its surrender in 1940 is Germany’s closest ally. Churchill was passed over for prime minister in favour of Lord Halifax and is now in hiding. British Jews are being deported at Germany’s insistence. A Resistance cell is fighting back even as its members are being tracked and identified by a Gestapo manhunter.


The inconvenient corpse whose murder promises severe repercussions for high ranking Nazi officials figures prominently in two of the best alternate history novels. Len Deighton’s SS-GB (1978) unfolds in London during 1941. Britain has been successfully invaded and conquered; Scotland Yard is now an arm of the SS. Deighton is best known for his spy stories, but the research he’s conducted through the years for his nonfiction works on World War II, notably Blood, Tears and Folly, aid in portraying a particularly grim realism. Fatherland (1992) is Robert Harris’s first novel. Readers trace the steps of a police detective through the shining world capital that is post-war Berlin. It is 1964, a couple of weeks before the national celebration of Hitler’s 75th birthday.


Both of these works perhaps owe a debt to The Night of the Generals (1962). Though not alternate history, Hans Hellmut Kirst’s novel revolves around a particularly nasty sex crime committed in occupied Warsaw in 1940. There are three suspects and each is a Wehrmarcht general. While there is the darkly comic allusion that even some atrocities are verboten to Nazis, the plot explores the inherent conflict between pedestrian criminal investigators and the needs or desires of the party elite.


S-Day (1990) by James Stewart Thayer is Cornelius Ryan’s masterful The Longest Day through a hackneyed looking-glass. The novel, in the form of a memoir, is an episodic recounting of the never executed Operation Sea Lion. The premise here is that Hitler and Stalin play well together, that Germany opts to throw everything it has across the English Channel. Fortunately, plucky Americans await Jerry.

The granddaddy, godfather, and strangest of them all is The Man in the High Castle (1962) by science fiction legend Philip K. Dick. Set in the year of its publication, the United States is occupied and has been partitioned by the three main Axis powers. However a cold war is evolving between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Like Dominion, it is an imagining of the humdrum and mundane, everyday life under the heel of the reviled jackboot, but mind-blowing.

The privileged reader is forced to wonder, what would I have done during the occupation? What would I have done if my friends and neighbours were being systematically harassed or rounded up by the authorities? Winners write history books and thus some tricky moral questions may remain unanswered or may be avoided altogether. We’ve alternate portraits at our fingertips of what could have gone down if the villains had won.