Time travelers love to kill Hitler. But what if, instead of time travel to kill him, we had an alt history story in which he was ousted from power before he got going? And what if, after that, he fled to Britain to become a down-on-his-luck PI hiding under the name of Wolf? It’s a weird, borderline offensive premise, but it works surprisingly well. Tidhar hits all the right noir notes, from tight sentences and wry observations, to all the twits and turns and foul play you could hope for.
This was an uncomfortable read for me. I found myself empathizing with Wolf just as much as I reveled in his misfortune, a testament to Tidhar’s skill. It feels sacrilegious to make fun of Hitler, of Nazis, of the the SS and their ilk. They seem to too evil, too huge and looming. There is a fear, when reading this, that to laugh at them (or god forbid, sympathize with their struggles in this alternative world where the Holocaust never happened) is to make light of the evils they perpetrated in reality.
It’s the framing story that allows this to work. A former pulp fiction writer named Shomer is living in the ghetto with the rest of the Jewish people, hearing rumors of trains going east and fearing for the lives of his children. He watches a rendition of Dracula, and reflects on how stories – silly stories, fantastic stories, light stories – are all he has left for comfort. The connection between the framing narrative and the main action broke my heart, and gave the story a surprising depth of meaning.