What if Germany had not lost World War II? What if the Nazis had reached peace settlements with the Allies and retained control of half of Europe? In FATHERLAND, a first novel by English journalist Robert Harris, Hitler is still in power, the anti-Semitic Joseph P. Kennedy is president of the United States, and Winston Churchill is in exile. Most startling of all, the world knows nothing of the Holocaust, only that hundreds of thousands of European Jews have disappeared.

Xavier March, a homicide investigator in Berlin with a reputation for insufficient Party enthusiasm, looks into what appears to be an elaborate art fraud. Two elderly Nazis, formerly high-ranking officials, have died mysteriously and a third is on the run. With the help of American journalist Charlotte Maguire, March discovers that the three stole dozens of masterpieces from the Reich during the war. Further investigation reveals that the old men may have been harboring a greater secret: irrefutable proof of the systematic murder of Jews. How to get this evidence out of Germany is the dangerous dilemma facing March and Maguire.

This territory has been covered before, as in Len Deighton’s 1978 SS-GB, depicting a Nazi-controlled Britain, yet the predecessor FATHERLAND most resembles is Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 GORKY PARK, with its Soviet policeman dedicated to solving a crime regardless of the political consequences.

FATHERLAND is an amazingly adept thriller for a novice, equal to Deighton and John le Carre at their best. Harris not only creates believable characters and credible situations but also provides a painstakingly specific portrait of a morally bankrupt society ruled by fear.