A huge happy publication day to Fergus McNeill for Ashes of America. Thank you to Fergus for giving me a copy to read.
What if the past came back to haunt you… but it wasn’t the past you remembered?
It’s 1953, and an optimistic America is shaking off the hurt of World War II. Russia is defeated and Germany is now an ally.
Former soldier Frank Rye is a small-town cop in rural Missouri, but the war has left him cynical and selfish. When his actions lead to the murder of a fellow officer, guilt drives him into a vengeful hunt for justice.
His search for the killer will drag him deep into his own past… to the wartime summer of 1944, when he was stationed in neutral Switzerland… to a clandestine world of love and lies.
To unmask the killer, he must uncover the truth about the war… and about himself.
Frank Rye is not a particular nice cop. Or indeed a nice man. He sends one of his colleagues, Pete Barnes, to go and do a job that Frank was specifically told to do. It could be that he was too lazy to do it himself or maybe it’s because he took the opportunity to sleep with Pete’s wife. Unfortunately, Pete is killed. And it’s not long before Frank realises that he was the intended target.
Jump back nine years to 1944. Frank Rye is an earnest young man, keen to serve his country on the battlefields of Europe. He’s pulled away from the main action to become a translator, working in intelligence in Bern, Switzerland.
What happens to turn Frank from a dedicated intelligence officer to downbeat, cynical cop?
This standalone is a very different book from McNeill’s DI Harland series. Speculative or alternative histories about the outcome of WW2 have been done before. However this is a new approach. The book works on the premise that after a German surrender, they fight with the Allies against Russia. It makes for a very different Europe. However, it’s very subtlety done and it’s the backdrop for the story, rather than the main event.
Frank Rye is both hero and anti-hero, depending on which time period you’re reading. McNeill deftly switches between the two, always leaving the reader on a cliff-hanger, inwardly cursing Fergus for swopping at a really good bit!
As well as Rye’s different personalities, we have two very different settings with Midwest America and Switzerland. Fergus McNeill manages to convey both with authenticity. And with that comes temperament. In the dry heat of a Midwest summer, tempers are frayed and actions are somewhat hasty. But the chillier mountain air of Switzerland brings cool heads at a time where clear thinking is imperative, not just for Frank, but for the whole of Europe.
Both of these stories would have worked on their own as novellas but combined together they’re pure genius. We move smoothly from US Noir to spy thriller, with speculative history thrown in for good measure, and all without jarring. To often books are pigeon-holed into genres when all we really need to ask is – is this a damn good story? And in this case, the answer is a resounding yes!
Ashes of America is available on Kindle and can be bought here.
As well as writing crime novels, Fergus McNeill has been creating computer games since the early eighties, writing his first interactive fiction titles while still at school. Over the years he has designed, directed and illustrated games for all sorts of systems, including the BBC Micro, the Apple iPad, and almost everything in between.
Now running an app development studio, Fergus lives in Hampshire with his wife and their very large cat. He is the author of Eye Contact, Knife Edge and Cut Out, plus the short novella Broken Fall.