by Murray Davies
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The alternate history genre is rife with stories of Nazi victories in World War II. The best of these must find a new voice and come up with a new way of viewing the results of a victorious Third Reich. In this, Murray Davies succeeds in Collaborator, the story of a West Country man, Nick Penny, who returns to his occupied village and finds himself working as a translator for the German forces which killed his father.
Penny is an interesting character. He views himself as an Englishman with no particular use for those who toady up to their Nazi overlords. At the same time, he works for those Nazis and has come to terms with his own boss, Kurt von Glass, who he views as a reasonably decent Nazi. Of course, many of the townspeople view Penny as being as much of a collaborator with the Nazis as any of the sycophants who Penny dislikes. Davies's point, as he shows throughout the book, is that in order to live under an occupation, everyone must be a collaborator to some extent, and each person must decide how much collaboration is permissible. At the same time, different people see different acts of collaboration as more or less defensible.
Although mostly told from Penny's point of view, Davies does swing between a number of different characters' viewpoints, often without warning. Many of these are brief and often not repeated. Davies shows life through von Glass's eyes, Penny's sister's point of view, and a few members of the Resistance. While it is nice to have these differing viewpoints, the transitions between them are not often clearly defined.
One of Davies's strengths is the fact that most of his characters have histories. Penny and his close friends, Roy Locke and Matty Cordington, are not only friends in the book, but clearly have a relationship which stretches back to their youths. Although Davies has them frequently refer back to their younger, more carefree, days, he does so in a fitting manner that seems neither maudlin nor forced. The result is characters, and relationships, which the reader cares about. More importantly, Davies shows those relationships changing as events and choices are made.
While many ideas relating to a Nazi victory in World War II are stale, Davies does breathe new life into his story of occupation by showing the slow and insidious manner in which the occupiers corrupt the invaded country. The Nazis slowly carve off the outer edges of society and make it more acceptable as they take bigger and bigger chunks, sending Englishman to fight on the Eastern Front or work in German industry and creating concentration camps first for foreign Jews and then British-born Jews. Unfortunately, Davies's model for this activity comes from history rather than his own imagination.
Collaborator is an alternate World War II novel which provides a reasonably realistic look at life under an occupying Nazi force. While other books have looked at this, Davies provides a nuanced look at what collaboration means, and while the Nazis and Germans are generally seen as villains, the English (and Irish) in the book are shown in all sorts of shades of gray, with some seen more sympathetically than others.