He’s directed 26 seasons of iconic TV show Top Gear, among many other popular shows across a glittering four-decade career. Now award-winning director Brian Klein has tried his hand at fiction, and the resulting novel, time-hopping political thriller The Counterfeit Candidate, will rank as one of the all-time most impressive literary debuts.

Stars &  Stripes

Stars & Stripes

What course would have history taken if rather than ending their lives in a Berlin bunker at the close of World War Two, Adolf Hitler and his wife, Eva Braun, had instead escaped?

That is the brilliant ‘What If …’ question that is explored to its full potential in new alternative history thriller The Counterfeit Candidate by celebrated TV director Brian Klein.

Based on an idea he first came up with while at university, one half of the story sees Hitler and Braun flee Europe and begin again in the relative obscurity of El Calafate in the Santa Cruz province of Argentina.

Here, they live in comfort and security, concealed from the world as they plot to bring about the Fourth Reich, starting a family so that they can, in time, plant their heirs right at the heart of global political power: the White House.

The other half of the story is set almost 70 years later, in 2012, when their grandson, John George Franklin looks poised to bring Hitler’s wicked vision to terrifying reality.

The Franklins have amassed great wealth and influence through their ownership of an American pharmaceutical company—which had been established decades earlier by Hitler with the Nazi spoils he’d syphoned away when he disappeared.

Now, John is the Republican Party’s dream candidate and is on the verge of a sweeping victory into the halls of power.

Meanwhile, in Buenos Aires, three criminals have pulled off a spectacular crime, breaking into a bank vault and stripping it of $90million in cash and numerous safe deposit boxes.

One of those boxes, however, contains more than the crooks bargained for. Owned by Richard Franklin, CEO of the Franklin Pharmaceutical Corporation, the secret documents it contains prove Hitler’s survival, and that Richard is, in fact, Hitler’s son.

The Counterfeit Candidate by Brian Klein is top-tier thriller fiction at its finest.
The Counterfeit Candidate by Brian Klein is top-tier thriller fiction at its finest.

In this potent mix of crime, politics and power, it falls on the downtrodden yet determined chief Inspector Nicholas Vargas of the Buenos Aires Police Department to track down the thieves and uncover what was of such importance. 

The police will have to be quick, however, as the Franklins are also on a manhunt, seeking to locate the thieves and reclaim the sensitive material which will certainly see their prestige and political aspirations come crashing down if exposed.

As Vargas and his trusted ally, Lieutenant Troy Hembury of the Los Angeles Police Department, get ever-nearer the earth-shattering truth, they head into greater and greater peril.

Will they manage to foil Hitler’s scheme, or will their bodies join the pile created by the henchmen of the Franklins, who are murdering and torturing their way to victory?

We’re not saying, but get comfortable because once you start this book you won’t stop until the explosive finale.

Like the best thrillers, much of the novel is fast-moving, not dwelling too long on characters or set-up but, instead, focusing on pumping up the tension and delivering on the action.

As fans of this genre would expect, it contains some high-octane scenes filled with gun battles, double-crosses, dramatic reveals, and other twists that keep you glued to the page.

But these are woven around a compelling, mature narrative told expertly through myriad points of view and flashbacks in short, exhilarating chapters.

The Counterfeit Candidate also explores the dark truth of power, greed and corruption, and how the secrets of the past always eventually surface.

It is worth stating that while Hitler is a key character in this book, author Brian Klein does not dwell on his past actions. This would be a different type of novel entirely. 

Instead, and wisely so, the main arc pits the police against the Franklins with the bank robbers stuck in the middle—a classic story of good vs evil.

Brian Klein is a BAFTA-winning TV director whose love of classic thrillers shines through in his debut novel, The Counterfeit Candidate, which will go down as a masterpiece of the genre.
Brian Klein is a BAFTA-winning TV director whose love of classic thrillers shines through in his debut novel, The Counterfeit Candidate, which will go down as a masterpiece of the genre.

There are neat surprises along the way and an unforgettable conclusion, but the author’s main achievement must surely be how he had been able to make this sensational plot—which wouldn’t be out of place on a conspiracy theories website—so immediate, so engaging and so credible.

In fact, it’s as close as a novel can come to offering the full cinema experience, being extremely visual with well-defined characters, popping dialogue and dramatic settings flying out at you.

This is, no doubt, down to Klein’s vast experience as a TV director.  

As well as being Top Gear’s longest-serving director, with his credits including 26 series of the international hit show, he has also directed the BBC’s Crimewatch and Watchdog, as well as six series of Sky Max’s biggest entertainment show, A League of Their Own Road Trip.

He knows better than anyone how to storyboard and he uses these skills to create many memorable moments, from a trip by grief-stricken Vargas to a Jewish cemetery to see his dead wife’s grave, to the monstrous Nazi mastermind Marin Bormann creating plans for the Fuhrer’s new life. 

In many ways, Klein feels like the new Frederick Forsyth, author of bestsellers such as The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File

Like Forsyth, his writing weaves together historical elements with fiction, populated with enduring characters.

John Franklin— a spoilt, womanising egoist—is, for example, someone you love to hate, but even the minor players in this drama are well-realised.

It’s also worth saying that it would have been so easy for his portrayal of Hitler to fail, or turn into parody.

Yet, instead, he has created a subtle portrait of a man still intent on domination from his secret hide-out yet also reeling from the collapse of the Third Reich and the Nuremberg trials, with many of his former officers jailed or executed.

The book has been lauded by, among many others, former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson, who called it “brilliant”, while word of mouth has seen thriller fans send the novel straight to the top of the Amazon bestseller charts.

And for good reason, for The Counterfeit Candidate is top-tier thriller fiction at its finest.

The Counterfeit Candidate by Brian Klein is published by Spirit Entertainment and is out on Amazon, priced £8.99 in paperback, £6.19 as an eBook, and £20.03 as an audiobook. For more information, visit www.brianklein.tv.


The Counterfeit Candidate author and lauded TV director Brian Klein takes time away from his busy filming schedule to tell us more about his debut novel, his literary inspirations, and just what it’s like working with Jeremy Clarkson.

Q. Why should we read your debut novel, The Counterfeit Candidate?

A. If you enjoy a pacey crime thriller with a political edge and a story that weaves a historical narrative into the plot then I think The Counterfeit Candidate is for you!

The book offers up an alternate version of history by asking the question, “What if Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun didn’t really die in the war-torn bunker in Berlin in April, 1945, but staged their suicides and fled to South America where they lived in secrecy under new identities?” How could that single event change history and how could it tie in with a high-profile safe deposit robbery in Buenos Aires, where three audacious thieves make off with over 100 million dollars’ worth of valuables, amidst the backdrop of an upcoming Presidential election in the US. 

Reader feedback tells me that most people devour the book in a couple of days and the two words that keeps appearing in all reviews is “page-turner”—so I guess that’s the main reason why the book has become so popular in such a short time.

Q. This is your debut novel. What were the biggest challenges you faced in writing it, and how did you overcome them?

A. Writing my first novel was extremely challenging. Working out the structure, pacing and writing dialogue for a number of different lead characters all posed many problems but, beyond doubt, the hardest element for me in writing the book was coping with writing two different timelines, which is a key element of the plot. In fact, I found it impossible to write the book in a linear fashion as I just found it too difficult to switch my mind from 2012 to 1945 and then back again. I ended up writing the timelines as two separate books, starting with the contemporary story as I knew that I would be breaking it up with at least a dozen flashback chapters that chronicled Hitler’s post-war life. In some ways I found writing the flashback chapters more enjoyable than those of the main story as by that point I knew exactly what I had to achieve in order for them to dovetail into the main narrative arc.

Q. Why did you decide to write a thriller?

A. For the last 30 years the only books I have read have all been thrillers. It’s a genre I absolutely love and I have often read four books on a seven-day holiday. I love the escapism they offer to the reader and I particularly like that feeling of being so hooked on a story that I literally can’t put the book down until I finish a particular section. That feeling of excitement was something I tried very hard to create when I wrote The Counterfeit Candidate and hopefully I managed to pull it off!

Q. The novel deals with an alternate history scenario where Hitler never died. How did you come up with this idea, and why did it intrigue you?

A. The idea for what would become The Counterfeit Candidate first began to form in my mind while I was at London University, studying Modern History and Politics. I thought it very suspicious that the Führer chose to commit suicide as opposed to taking advantage of the escape route to South America that was right there for the taking.  This thought was fuelled further by reading about Stalin’s meeting with Churchill and Roosevelt at Potsdam in 1945, shortly after the end of World War Two (and which I reference in the novel’s prologue) where he said that he believed that Hitler had indeed escaped from Berlin and had gone on the run, either in Spain or Argentina.  Putting this together, it led me to speculate about ‘What If …’  Hitler hadn’t killed himself but had instead fled with his wife, Eva Braun, to Argentina and they had then built a new life in Patagonia. I considered how this different chain of events might impact on the present day and then I came up with the idea that Hitler’s grandson could have been groomed from birth to one day become the US President, bringing to fulfilment a plan hatched nearly 70 years before. Once the concept was in place I knew that I would need to create a sense of jeopardy, which is how the idea of the bank robbery at the safe depository, right at the beginning of the novel, came about. Those three elements—Hitler’s escape to South America, creating a dynasty, and the safe deposit robbery where thieves unintentionally take a box containing secret documents revealing the truth about Hitler’s secret life—all coalesced into what I hope is a thrilling story for readers. 

As Top Gear’s longest-serving director, Brian Klein has mingled with many celebrities, such as chart-topper Ed Sheeran.
As Top Gear’s longest-serving director, Brian Klein has mingled with many celebrities, such as chart-topper Ed Sheeran.

Q. Your book has been showered with praise. Can we expect a sequel, and if so what can you reveal about it?

A. I have been inundated with requests from readers asking if and when there will be a sequel to The Counterfeit Candidate. The answer is yes!  My publisher has asked for a sequel and I have begun formulating ideas for the new book. I don’t want to give away too much but I can say that The Counterfeit Candidate finishes in April 2012 and the sequel will pick the story up eight years later in the winter of 2020, right in the heart of the Covid pandemic that engulfed the world. A number of central characters will reappear, albeit eight years older!

Q. The novel is very visual and many people have observed that it would be perfect for adaptation as a TV mini-series or film. If this does go ahead, and given that you are a TV director, how much involvement would you like to have with such an adaptation?

A. In the last few weeks I have been contacted by a film production company who want to bring The Counterfeit Candidate to the small screen via a TV mini-series. This is an incredibly exciting prospect and I would want to be very involved in all stages of the project as a consultant or an executive producer. That way I could watch the process evolve from an idea on paper to a finished project on film. I would not want to interfere but just be part of a team who could take a 400-page book and transform it into a TV series. It would be a dream come true.

Q. Who are your biggest literary influences, and what have you learned from them?

A. As I said earlier, I only read thrillers. My favourite authors are Robert Ludlum, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Robert Harris, Fredrick Forsyth and David Baldacci. I think I have learned a great many ‘tricks of the trade’ from these legendary authors, who have all inspired me to write my debut thriller. The Day of the Jackal was Forsyth’s first novel and it is recognised as a classic example of a ‘What If …’ thriller. The Counterfeit Candidate is, likewise, very much a ‘What If …’ thriller and I was thrilled when eminent British crime writer Peter James wrote a review of my book stating that it was, “A brilliant concept, written with verve and completely enthralling.  The best ‘what if?’  thriller I’ve read since Day of the Jackal.  Brian Klein is destined to become a very big name in the thriller genre.”

Q. You have worked on many of the UK’s most cherished TV shows such as Top Gear, A League of Their Own Road Trip, This is Your Life, Crimewatch and Watchdog. What has been the secret of your success, and how do you feel to have lived the life you lead?

A. For the last 35 years I have been fortunate enough to have worked on some of the most iconic TV shows of all time along with some of the greatest TV presenters/performers. I often pinch myself when I think about my past career and my current projects as I get to work with some amazing people. Between 2002-2016 I directed every single episode of Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, travelling the world with them on fantastic adventures. Then between 2016 and 2019 I joined them on The Grand Tour and now I am currently working with Freddie Flintoff, Paddy McGuinness and Chris Harris on the current version of Top Gear. In addition to that I am also working on my sixth series of A League of their Own Road Trip with Jamie Redknapp, Jack Whitehall, Romesh Ranganathan and Freddie Flintoff again!  All these guys love to work hard and play hard and I am very lucky to be so heavily involved in these amazing productions.

Q. Given your long association with driving shows, how much of a petrol head would you say you are?

A. I have always loved cars and that’s why landing the job of Top Gear Director in 2002 was a dream come true. Since then I have directed 26 series of the iconic show and am just about to begin shooting the series 27!  I constantly change my car and I am far more interested in the aesthetic qualities of a car than, say, it’s horse power or torque. To me, the excitement of being a petrol head is all about the look of a car and I have been extremely lucky to own some real lookers, including a Ferrari, Porsche and an Aston Martin.

Q. If you could work on any other TV show you wanted, past or present, in any genre, what would it be, and why?

A. If I could work on any other TV show past or present I would choose the much-loved crime series, Murder in Paradise. To spend a month in the Caribbean directing such a lovely series would be my own idea of paradise!

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