Chatto & Windus, £16.99 Order at a discount from the The Independent Bookshop

Book review: The Windsor Faction, By DJ Taylor

History and fiction blend in this cunningly mixed cocktail of wartime skullduggery

Reading DJ Taylor's new novel was a peculiar experience for me. By an unnerving coincidence, he turns out to have constructed his plot around some of the historical events and personalities at the heart of a non-fiction book on which I've been working.

Get this book at the discounted price of £11.99 from The Independent Bookshop or call 0843 0600 030

 

Those events reached their climax during the early stages of the Second World War when a secretive group of British fascists led by Captain Archibald Ramsay reached a potentially history-changing accommodation with Tyler Kent, a debonair, womanising employee of the US Embassy in London, who was stealing vast quantities of confidential documents.

Such is this saga's intrinsic drama and seductively noir-ish quality that it has already provided the narrative motor for another recent novel: Laura Wilson's deservedly popular Stratton's War. I opened both of these novels with a sense of trepidation, swiftly banished by the pungent authenticity of their opening chapters.

Until one has read a few pages of The Windsor Faction, Taylor's choice of title seems merely a matter-of-fact allusion to the House of Windsor and, more specifically, to King Edward VIII and his political allies. Embedded within it, however, is a sly pun that signposts the novel's playful tone and its status as a modish blend of fact and fiction.

Like Dominion, CJ Sansom's latest bestseller, The Windsor Faction re-imagines the war's initial phase, particularly the now little-known British fascist campaign to make peace with the Nazis. While Dominion portrays the grim aftermath of such an arrangement, this novel concentrates on the illicit manoeuvrings of campaigners striving to secure a treaty.

In Taylor's alternative history, the king's mistress, Wallis Simpson, dies in a car crash, her death averting the abdication. The monarch is then courted by a group of fascist peace campaigners using the real-life writer, Beverley Nichols, as their amusingly louche intermediary. Through pastiche journals, which showcase Taylor's facility as a pitch-perfect mimic of mid-century idiom, The Windsor Faction follows Nichols's efforts to persuade the King to make a broadcast opposing the war.

Intercut with these stylish entries is the tale of a fictitious upper-middle-class girl named Cynthia Kirkpatrick, who lives within the orbit of the conspirators. When she swaps colonial India for the blacked-out streets and dingy rented rooms of wartime London, she finds herself embroiled in a half-hearted romance with Tyler Kent. Before long, she's approached by MI5, who want her to work for them.

From this rich material, only loosely connected to the real-life adventures of Kent and friends, Taylor has crafted a compulsively enjoyable novel, veined with breezy charm. Drawing on the work of Orwell, MacLaren-Ross and other literary masters of that nicotine-stained era, he gives us a persuasive vision of London during the Phoney War, and Britain at that pivotal moment when the course of history could have been so different.

Paul Willetts's 'Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms' will be published by Penguin next year

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions