Suppose Hitler died in March 1939. No Second World War, no takeover of England by the Left, no descent into the gutter. By 1959, the world has recovered from the Great War. England remains liberal... More > and conservative and the heart of a great empire. German national socialism has decayed into an increasingly civilianised hegemony in Eastern Europe presided over by a senile Goering. Russia is ruled by Lavrenti Beria.
America has fallen under the arbitrary rule of Harry J. Anslinger. The reasons for this are what drives the plot of the novel.
It opens with the return to England of Anthony Markham, an independent scholar who has been employed to write the biography of a largely forgotten and now dead Winston Churchill. Because the old drunk left his papers to Harvard University, Markham has had to spend a month in America. The question of what he is carrying in his document boxes involves the fate of England and of all bourgeois civilisation as it has been re-established after 1918.< Less