As a tourist in London you may have visited Churchill’s War Rooms seventy-three feet below Whitehall. There, Winston Churchill and as many as five hundred other people worked for six years directing Britain’s effort to defeat Nazi Germany. It’s one of London’s most popular attractions. And you’re even more likely to have traveled on the London Underground, the world’s oldest and second biggest subway system. But what you would not have seen are the many other facilities, WWII bomb shelters, tunnels linking government buildings, utility lines, discontinued subway stations, sewers, and the extensive network of underground rivers that undergird the British capital. Centuries of history are buried there. And that history comes back to haunt the people of the city in London Underground, a clever science fiction thriller about biological warfare by American writer Chris Angus.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The story begins with Henry VIII
London Underground opens five hundred years before the present day. It’s 1528, the twentieth year in the reign of Henry VIII. A lethal disease called “the Sweat” has struck London, and the king and his mistress, Anne Boleyn, have fled the city. Along the way Henry confides in her that he knows the Treasury will be plundered in the absence of the court, all of whom have surely fled. But he has hidden enormous wealth that will ensure his continuing control over the realm once they return to the capital. And we readers would be fools not to realize that both the Sweat and the treasure will figure in the story to follow.
London Underground by Chris Angus (2012) 398 pages ★★★★☆
A sprawling cast of characters
As the complexities of the plot work themselves out, we encounter a long list of characters. Some surface in August 1944 as World War II continues to rage in the skies of London. Others appear in the present.
During World War II
It’s late in 1944. Churchill has learned that the Nazis are researching biological weapons, which they threaten to catapult into London with V-2 rockets. He quickly assembles a commando team to attack and destroy the research facility the Germans have established north of Narvik in Norway. Three individuals lead the team:
- “Norwegian born RAF Flight Commander Gunnar Hansen,” who knows the territory and speaks the language
- Major Duncan Osborne, “one of Britain’s most intensely trained special operations soldiers”
- Natasha Newman, “a nurse who has worked in the infectious disease unit of the Foreign Office”
The notorious Norwegian traitor Vidkun Quisling also plays a central role in the story. So too, though he never appears in person, does surgeon and biologist Dr. Alexis Carrel, a Nobel Prize-winner for pioneering vascular suturing techniques. Later in life, he gained prominence collaborating with Charles Lindbergh in the eugenics movement.
In the present
The present-day events rocket between the caverns and sewers underground London and the offices of Whitehall and 10 Downing Street. Half a dozen characters are the principals among the many who emerge in these settings:
- Carmen Kingsley, an archaeologist with the British Museum. A specialist in the Tudor era, she is in charge of all the archaeological digs in the city. Carmen is on the Asperger’s spectrum but is high-functioning.
- Carmen’s resourceful best friend, Julia, a young archaeologist working in one of the underground sites
- Philip Trimm, the archaeologist who is managing a major dig at a park called Coram’s Fields. He’s thoroughly unlikable and detests Carmen.
- Sherwood Peets, a promising detective newly promoted to the rank of Inspector at New Scotland Yard
- Prime Minister Nevil Harris, who appears to be none too bright
- Marcus Hopkinton, the scheming director of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
Now add to these human actors a population of thousands and thousands of rats . . . and an untold number of other animals living underground. And if you can imagine how all these people and animals will interact without reading the novel, your imagination is far greater than mine.
About the author
On his author website, Chris Angus notes that he “comes from a literary family consisting of seven published writers. His father and mother, both professors of English Literature and authors of numerous works of fiction, were the best-selling collaborators of a series of anthologies published by Random House.
“For ten years, Book Review Editor for Adirondac magazine, he has also been a newspaper columnist and has published more than 400 essays, articles, book introductions, columns and reviews in a wide variety of publications.”
Angus has fifteen books listed on Goodreads, including several works of nonfiction as well as a series of thrillers. He lives in upstate New York in the Adirondack Mountains.
For related reading
For more good reading, check out:
- These novels won both Hugo and Nebula Awards
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels
- 10 top science fiction novels
- The top 10 dystopian novels
- 10 new science fiction authors worth reading now
- Great alternate history novels
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