First Edition Hardcover
|Cover artist||Raymond Hawkey|
|Publication date||24 August 1978|
SS-GB is an alternate history novel by Len Deighton, set in a United Kingdom fictionally conquered and occupied by Germany during World War II. The novel's title refers to the branch of the Nazi SS that controls Britain.
It is November 1941, nine months after a German invasion led to the British surrender. Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer, a British homicide detective assigned to Scotland Yard, is called in to investigate a murder of a well-dressed man in an apartment in Shepherd Market. Though the body has two gunshot wounds, Archer is puzzled by the condition of the body, in particular what appears to be a sunburn on the body's arm. To his surprise, the case draws the attention of the highest levels of the German government, as an SS Standartenführer, Oskar Huth, arrives to supervise the investigation. Archer soon finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between Huth and Gruppenführer Fritz Kellerman, Archer's boss and the head of police forces in Great Britain.
Archer soon discovers that the dead man was a British physicist named William Spode and that Spode was involved with the Resistance movement. This leads Archer to George Mayhew, a former colonel in the British Army who is organising an operation designed to free the King from his prison in the Tower of London and spirit him away to neutral America. Archer also develops a romantic relationship with Barbara Barga, an American reporter whom he first met at the Spode murder scene and who appears involved in the mystery. Huth also reveals to Archer the reason for the high-level interest in the murder: Spode was part of a German military team working on developing an atomic bomb.
As his investigation proceeds, Archer finds the dangers increasing, as a subordinate is killed and Archer himself is nearly murdered by a member of the Resistance. Following a clue in the form of an elbow pivot for an artificial arm, Archer travels to a prisoner-of-war camp in Berkshire where inmates produce replacement limbs for war veterans. There he succeeds in capturing Spode's brother, John Spode, who lost his right arm while fighting the German invasion. Though Spode confesses readily to shooting his brother (who was dying of radiation poisoning), he commits suicide by ingesting a cyanide capsule before Archer can take him back to London. Learning that the German officer escorting him around the camp was a member of the Abwehr, Archer follows him back to London, where he discovers Mayhew conspiring with top Abwehr officials to free the King, an act that would humiliate the SS as the organisation in charge of guarding him.
The next day, a public exhumation of Karl Marx from Highgate Cemetery as part of "German-Soviet Friendship Week" is disrupted by a bomb which kills dozens of people. In response the German army declares martial law and arrests thousands of people, including Archer's partner, Detective Sergeant Harry Woods. Though Woods assures his friend that they will be able to avoid incarceration by bribing one of the soldiers, Archer soon learns that Woods is wounded in an escape attempt. Kellerman secures Woods's release, but with a statement that compromises Archer in Kellerman's political manoeuvrings against Huth. Undeterred, Archer travels to an English manor house to witness the arrival of an American agent who arrives to negotiate with Mayhew over the King and the atomic bomb secrets. The two agree that the Americans will get the equations William Spode worked out (which his brother photographed before destroying) in return for taking the King out of Britain as well. Though Huth arrives with a force of men, Mayhew comes to a secret agreement with him and the Germans depart quietly.
The following day. Archer and Woods succeed in getting the King out of the Tower, only to find the King an invalid as a result of an injury suffered during the invasion. They take him secretly to Bringle Sands, the site of the German atomic bomb research project in England, so that a force of United States Marines preparing to attack the facility can take the King out with them. Though the attack succeeds in destroying the facility and escaping with research material and key personnel, an ambush set by Huth (who was forewarned of the assault by Mayhew) results in the death of the King. Though arrested, Archer is freed by Kellerman, who has what he wants – evidence which he can use to convict Huth of aiding the resistance. In a final meeting before his execution, Huth laments to Archer that the Americans will develop the atomic bomb first and that Mayhew (whom Archer has deduced was Spode's real murderer) has also got what he wanted most: an honourable death for the King, and an incident that will bring about war between Nazi Germany and the United States.
References in other works
- Axis victory in World War II — includes an extensive list of other Wikipedia articles regarding works of Nazi Germany/Axis/World War II alternate history.
- One Hundred Years of Evil