A Kill in the Morning by Graeme Shimmin is a British science-fiction, alternate history stand-alone novel that I picked up due to it’s badass, cult classic type of cover. I honestly didn’t even read the synopsis until after I checked it out. While the novel didn’t blow my knee-high sockies off of my tiny little toes, it was a good, action-packed ride that I enjoyed a lot more than I anticipated I would.
A Kill in the Morning takes place in 1955, which is fourteen years after Winston Churchill’s demise and the end of World War II. Europe has been occupied and Britain’s fighting in a cold-war against a nuclear-armed Nazi Germany. We follow an unnamed British assassin who’s on the run from his own government and planning a one-man fight against the Nazis. Then you have Kitty, a non-violent resistance fighter who schemes for Nazi takedown after infiltrating their ranks. All of this leads to the fate of the world’s future hanging on a single kill in the morning.
As I mentioned earlier, the cover for this book reminded me of a classic cult film, particularly a vintage James Bond perhaps, and it actually reads like it too, which I thoroughly appreciated.
The first thing that I noticed about the book is how vividly violent it is. Within the initial twenty pages, I got see the assassin brutally murder a high-ranking officer. It was so grotesque and quite fantastic. All of the details pertaining to how specific parts were crushed or squished, the way the blood spilled out onto the floor, the feeling of satisfaction that the assassin felt in the wake of the kill—it was so much fun to read and an excellent way to get my bloody attention (no pun intended… maybe).
Then afterwards, I was taken through one action-packed occurrence after another and another, leaving very little room in between for breathing. It has been a long time since I have encountered a book that is so damn jam-packed with thrill and exhilaration like this. Combined with the silver-tongued wit and uncertainty surrounding the main character, I found myself quickly sinking deeper into the pages of the story that was being told.
In addition to all of the action, there is tons of complexity to the political climate and espionage culture that creates the overall ambiance and atmosphere for the story. I never could completely predict of whom I could trust and where everyone’s allegiances lay. I liked being kept on my toes with tight-knit suspense and an almost gruelling anticipation. The keenness was further drawn out by the assassin’s first-person narrative tone and then teased by the other characters introduced.
Kitty, a non-violent resistance fighter who’s on the run from the Gestapo, felt just as vague and mysterious to me as our main killer dude. Her beauty and fragility are simultaneously charming yet frustrating, but the more you get to know her and learn of all the different ways she’s accommodated her lifestyle for survival, you end up gaining a specific level of respect for her. At specific points, however, that respect straddled the line of pity depending on her circumstances.
Regardless of all of the fun qualities, there are some elements that took what would have been a badass-five-star read and dropped it a few notches lower, and the vast majority of it has to do with an imbalance in character portrayals to the plot progression and fluidity.
Firstly, the violence won’t be easy for some readers to stomach, as there are plenty instances between Germans and Jewish prisoners, with fierce anti-Semitic dialogue and commentary, of which we see our main character even partake in to an extent (more in dialogue than violence). It made me feel uncomfortable and fucking angry. I had to remind myself that this was a legit thing that happened, such as hunting Jewish people for sport, and unfortunately, it’s one of the darkest atrocities committed by the human race. The book captures it well, but in certain scenes, especially where the assassin is concerned, it felt unnecessary and included for shock-value only.
Secondly, Kitty’s scenes were so limited in quantity and quality that I had to ponder what the point of her presence in the book even entailed? She’s a regular customer, then an unexpected twist occurs and there’s nothing from her again until much, much later. When she finally does resurface, the moment was jarring and out-of-place, not to mention rather paltry. There is also another section towards the last one-hundred pages where her actions are nothing more than a half-assed plot device, and if that is her entire reason for existing, then it’s a lame one. It also detracts all the mysterious depth and worth from her as a character, making her flat and irrelevant.
Speaking of women, this brings me to my third frustration. Women are objectified so horribly. I get that the novel is crafted to be a sort of homage to classical espionage stories and films. Nevertheless, it’s a such typical trope that wasn’t implemented innovatively at all, becoming a let-down. Women were nothing more than pretty little bonnet-ornaments and fodder for the immaterial plot twists.
Overall, even with its shortcomings, I think the book warrants a reading for folks who like reading alternate history stories, or cult classical espionage narratives. There are many pleasurable aspects that occasionally outweighs all of the stuff I didn’t care for. At its core, it’s a wild, bloody ride of ass-kicking shenanigans.