It’s 1952, Britain has struck an uneasy peace deal with Hitler, the Nazis are in control of Europe and the sound of jackboots echoes across the continent of Africa.
This is the bleak and brutal world conjured up in Guy Saville’s scorching debut novel, a terrifying account of the way things might have been if the Brits had capitulated at Dunkirk in 1940.
His alternate history – in which Nazi Africa has become a killing ground of slave labour camps and wholesale ethnic slaughter – is the stuff of nightmares.
The Afrika Reich is essentially an all-action, explosive thriller but it weaves real-life figures and some scarily convincing fiction into a plot based on authentic Third Reich plans for the ‘Dark Continent’.
Using genuine Nazi war aims, Saville imagines Hitler grabbing back the colonies lost to Germany under the Versailles Treaty after the First World War, a new empire run from Germania (formerly Berlin) and the SS in charge of policing Africa.
When this dark and dystopian world is coupled with a cast of credible characters, Machiavellian plot twists, cinematic action scenes and pulsating suspense, the story becomes irresistible.
Former mercenary soldier Burton Cole is still haunted by the disappearance of his beloved mother during his early years growing up as Burton Kohl in Togoland, a German protectorate in West Africa.
A veteran of the fiasco at Dunkirk, which ended in the resignation of Churchill and Britain signing a non-aggression pact with Germany, Cole is keeping a low profile in Suffolk where he farms apples and makes plans to live with his married lover Madeleine and her young daughter.
But when Rhodesian mineral dealer Donald Ackerman offers Cole a pocketful of diamonds to head up a team of commandos and assassinate Walter E Hochburg, the ruthless Governor General of the German Kongo, he agrees without any hesitation.
For Cole, the diamonds will be a welcome bonus because what he really wants is to kill the hated Hochburg who is in some way linked to his mother’s mysterious fate.
Africa is a dangerous place where gleaming autobahns bisect the jungle, jet fighters patrol the skies and Hochburg runs his territories under the twin pillars of bureaucracy and torture.
His official headquarters is being constructed around the evil Schädelplatz, a quadrangle paved with the skulls of 20,000 black natives, part of a chilling master plan to ‘wipe Africa clean’.
Against the odds, Cole accomplishes his mission backed up by a team of other mercenaries, including his old French Foreign Legion commanding officer Patrick Whaler from Boston, USA.
But the escape goes spectacularly wrong and Burton and Whaler are forced to flee for their lives across 1,200 miles of unbroken Nazi territory which encompasses festering heat and barbaric SS slave camps.
But it’s in war-torn Angola that Cole reaches his final reckoning and in a nail-biting climax discovers a lethal conspiracy leading straight to the heart of the Reich itself.
Immaculately researched and with accompanying notes to put the story into its context, The Afrika Reich is an exciting first novel which blends history and fiction into an unforgettable drama.
(Hodder & Stoughton, hardback, £12.99)