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Half a Crown
by Jo Walton
TOR, $15.99; 316pp
Release Date: September 3, 2013
As a conclusion to a wonderful meaty, well-written three book series; this novel is spot on.

This tale continues with the exploits of Peter Carmichael, a commander of the Watch, the British secret police dedicated to keeping the status quo in England . The status quo being based on the premise that Hitler won WWII and now in 1960, is still ruling the Reich. England is his ally. The U.S. is a wimpy isolationist nation. Russia has been defeated and its borders fought over by Japan and Germany .

It is not a fun world out there. Especially since Hitler, of course, is still bent on destroying the Jews. The Jews and Communists and anarchists anyone caught not toeing the line is sent to the camps.

Carmichael, secretly gay, though his life is known to his superiors and used to keep him in line, has established what he calls the Inner Watch, a very secret organization within the Watch that does what it can to get Jews out of England and beyond the reach of the Reich with no one the wiser.

Carmichael’s right hand man, Sergeant Royston, who was killed in the last novel, has a daughter, Elvira that Carmichael has taken under his wing. He sent her to a fancy private school in Switzerland where she made friends with an upper class English girl name Betsy Maynard.

As the novel opens, the two women are eighteen-year-old debs about to make their Presentation to the Queen, as all good upper class English girls do.

Of course, things go to hell in a hand-basket when Betsey and Elvira go to an evening torch parade by the local fascists…there is even a Jewish family to taunt and throw things at. In the midst of this, a riot occurs when someone protest the way things are and in the ensuing melee, Betsey and Elvira are separated: Betsey gets her arm broken and Elvira is hauled away by The Met., the English police, who don’t get along with the Watch. The police are convinced Elvira has something to do with the riot and is mistakenly referred to as the fiancée of a Lord Bellingham who they suspect of being treasonous. She has a very scary time of it until Uncle Carmichael gets her out.

She spends the night at Carmichael ’s flat to recoup before returning to the Maynards who have no idea where she is. There she overhears a conversation between Carmichael and a Mrs. Talbot as they discuss the Underground Railroad used to get Jews out of England .

This will prove to be the downfall for Carmichael .

As the story progresses, Elvira is arrested again, and now she’s being accused of more serious crimes. Carmichael also comes under suspicion---all while a huge peace conference is being organized in London where Hitler and several high-ranking members of other fascist governments will convene along with Queen Elizabeth.

But unrest and unhappiness with the status quo is growing across Europe and things are very tense. An assassination is planned and trust me: things get very, very dark at the end.

I don’t want to give a lot away here because the end is a terrible race against time and of course there’s tragedy.

But, there is hope, too.

The plot, the characters, the intelligent structure of the tale is so excellent. I can’t recommend this high enough.

Read the whole series: Farthing, Ha’Penny and Half a Crown. ~~ Sue Martin

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