Review: ‘Summer of the Long Knives’ by L. S. Bassen

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summeroflongknivesL. S. Bassen, a 2011 Flannery O’Connor Award finalist, has written a strong alternative history novel with her Signal 8 Press (July 22, 2014) release of Summer of the Long Knives.  “Night of the Long Knives” is an old German phrase used to describe acts of revenge, most famously German Chancellor Adolf Hitler’s murderous purge of his political opponents in the summer of 1934.

The novel begins its “alternity” approach with the first sentence: “Very little from a personal perspective has been written about the assassination of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler on July 1, 1934, following the so-called Night of the Long Knives.” Summer of the Long Knives is a haunting story about who killed an imaginary Adolph Hitler in his Chancellery gardens and why.

The fictional Dr. Anne Frank-Koestler is quoted in this mix of well-researched history and intuitive “what ifs?” as saying that as the journalist concerns himself with facts, the historian is an artist who concerns himself with the art of creating pictures of meaningful events and periods of human affairs that while not factually accurate, might just be a “truer” version than the account of the past that we know.

This “truer” account in Bassen’s story isn’t a denial of German history, but an exploration of the real summer of 1934 by merging it with “what if?” in the same spirit that authors create alternative ends to America’s critical Civil War battles and ask readers to imagine the resulting version of history. Bassen provides a backdrop so real that her characters’ lives–phantoms though they may be–seem equally real. Artist Albert Entrater, model Lisel Gantz and Catholic priest Konrad Hoeffer are involved in an assassination plot that the reader hopes will succeed as though the world might in fact change by the end of the novel.

The real is clarified by the imaginary in Bassen's novel.

The real is clarified by the imaginary in Bassen’s novel.

Imagined headlines bring us the news: HITLER KILLED A DAY AFTER CRUSHING NAZI RADICAL REVOLT: RÖHM A SUICIDE: VON PAPEN, VON BLOMBERG RESTORE ORDER

The imaginary Albert Entrater survives. Anne Frank survives. Hitler does not.  Those who believe in the furthest reaches of quantum theory tell us that whatever can happen does happen–somewhere, in another universe perhaps, or at the very least, in our minds after we read alternative histories.

The world we know is the world we know, but in another universe, Abraham Lincoln wasn’t assassinated at Ford Theater and Adolph Hitler was assassinated via one plot or another. And just maybe a young girl named Lisel Gantz, who was assaulted by brownshirt Stormtroopers and subsequently sought her revenge, pulled the trigger.

In the “what if?” world of an alternative history, The Summer of the Long Knives is at once a fictional thriller and a chilling exploration of the German summer of 1934.

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About Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of "Sarabande," "The Sun Singer," "At Sea," "Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire," and "Conjure Woman's Cat."

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