"The Night Before Morning" by Alistair Moffat is a fascinating historical "what-if?" thriller set in an alternative Britain in 1944 and 1945. What if Hitler's Nazi Germany had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by detonating a nuclear bomb over London in December 1944? What if they had been able to bring the USA to heel by threatening to detonate another on board a submarine off New York?
The book starts on the night of 16 June 1945 as an unidentified figure seeks out the solution to a riddle in the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey in what is now the Scottish Borders. His search leads him to the hiding place of a journal largely written by a young army officer called David Erskine and covering the period from June 1944 to January 1945. At this point the journal takes over the story and we follow David Erskine as he takes part in the D-Day landings; and then in October 1944 sees the mushroom cloud of the London bomb from distant Antwerp. He is later imprisoned by the Nazis at Berwick-upon-Tweed before escaping to become a fugitive in Scotland. I'm sure I won't be the only reader to detect strong and highly entertaining echoes of John Buchan's "The Thirty-Nine Steps" as the chase progresses to St Andrews.
There the story changes gear as the true nature of what the Nazis are trying to achieve in Scotland becomes clear: before the story moves on again. I have to admit to harbouring some doubts about whether a commandeered train could really be navigated right across the country via the complex 1940s Scottish railway network without anyone, anywhere, resetting any of the many sets of points it would have taken to wreck the enterprise: especially as the country was under occupation by hostile Nazis. But to be fair it takes only a slight suspension of disbelief to allow the reader to be swept along by the pace of the action.
A rapid-fire plot and some engaging characters help keep the reader hooked as "The Night Before Morning" progresses towards its conclusion. It would be unfair to give much away, except perhaps to say that the ending gives the book a satisfying sense of a circle being completed. An entertaining read and a book we'd recommend.