Cover image of "Farthing," a novel that explores the consequences if Hitler won the war

Here’s a thought-provoking new take on World War II that combines a murder mystery with science fiction. It’s chilling alternate history that explores what might have happened if HItler won the war.

It’s 1949. Eight years earlier, Rudolf Hess had made his way to the United Kingdom to offer a peace settlement—and a British Cabinet member known as Lord Thirkie followed up with a flight to Berlin to meet Hitler personally. His mission led to a quick agreement in the spring of 1941, before Hitler’s planned invasion of the USSR and nearly a year before the USA would have entered the war. Nazi Germany, now unchallenged in the West, occupies the Continent from Gibraltar to Kiev, as fighting rages on between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union—eight years after the invasion.

Britain transformed when Hitler won the war

In Britain, the effects of the peace have been profound. Anti-Semitism reigns, enthusiastically promoted by the country’s leading newspapers. Winston Churchill has been voted out of office and replaced, not with a Socialist, but with another Conservative. With elections looming again, the question on everyone’s mind is whether Lord Thirkie’s circle—a tightly knit cabal of titled Right-Wingers known as the Farthing Set—will capture 10 Downing Street. Even before the election, they’re championing a bill in Parliament that would allow only university graduates to vote.


Farthing (Farthing Trilogy #1) by Jo Walton (2006) 320 pages ★★★★☆


British officer examining the wreckage of the Messerschmidt fighter plane Rudolf Hess crash-landed into Scotland in May 1941. Hess bailed out of the plane and lived. He was regarded as unstable and immediately imprisoned. But in the novel, he plays a central role. Image: Liverpool John Moores University

A powerful lord is murdered

Surrounded by a battalion of servants, Lord Thirkie and his “set” are gathered for a quiet weekend at the country home of Lord and Lady Eversley, located near a village that gives the Farthing Set its name. Suddenly one night Lord Thirkie is murdered—and suspicion points to a Jewish banker married to Lucy, the hosts’ rebellious daughter.

Farthing tells the tale of the investigation undertaken by Inspector Carmichael and Sergeant Royston of Scotland Yard. In alternating chapters, we view the action through the eyes of Lucy and the Inspector. The plot appears to be a straightforward drawing-room whodunit—but it’s far from that. As the investigation unfolds, we learn more about how fascism has seeped into every corner of English society.

If you enjoy reading English murder mysteries—or if you’re simply attracted to the alternate history, as I was—you’re likely to love this book. It’s not the only novel that asks what would have happened if Hitler won the war. But it’s one of the best.

About the author

Photo of Jo Walton, author of this novel that asks what if Hitler won the war
Jo Walton. Image: Simple Wikipedia

Jo Walton was born in Wales in 1964 and educated there and in England. She moved to Montreal, Quebec, in 2002. She is the author of at least 15 fantasy and science fiction novels and has won numerous awards. Her most honored work is the 2011 fantasy novel, Among Others, which garnered both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Walton is married and has one son.

For further reading

For my review of the second book in the Farthing Trilogy, Ha’Penny, go to A gripping alternate history of England after World War II. The third, Half a Crown, is at Jo Walton finds the present in an alternate history of the past.

This is one of the 10 best alternate history novels reviewed here.

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