It has got to be one of the oldest questions in the time travel genre: if you could go back and kill Hitler, would you do it, or would the repercussions be too great to take the chance?
First of all, Payback is not a time travel story, so if that’s what you are looking for, sorry about that. Second: it does take an interesting look at the pre-World War II world and what folks were thinking at the time. The author is obviously a student of the era and does a good job with characterizations and milieu. The basic idea is that the FBI decides they want to try to stop WWII by killing Hitler, but does not want it to look like a government hit, which has its own set of massive problems. So they go to the experts: they contact the Mafia and ask for a hitman to make a hit. In effect they take out a contract on Hitler. Okay so far.
Most of the story is the lead up to the actual assassination. The Mafia assigns Bugsy Siegel to the job and, as any good student of history knows, Siegel was good at it. Problems occur as they will in real life, but Siegel pulls it off and Hitler goes down. Then Siegel and his accompanying FBI handler have to make it home, past government soldiers angry at making Mussolini look bad (the assassination took place in Italy). A standard war story, pretty much.
While the writing of this book is good, and the characters make sense, if moves a bit slowly for a story on such an important subject. And the author drops the ball by not exploring the fallout from the hit more. There have been volumes written on what would possibly have happened if Hitler had been assassinated early in his career, or even later as he started his rise to power, but many of the possibilities were left out of this discussion. Most of the focus is on Bugsy and his associate making it home after the fact, only to find out WWII started anyway. But no mention of how the war would have gone without the driving force of Hitler behind the German war machine. The real meat of an alternate history book was left on the cutting board.
The author is a good writer with the ability and the art to put real people into a story and make it worth reading. But by leaving out the real focus of the idea – what would really have happened in WWII without Hitler’s guidance – he leaves us hanging, Forcing us to answer the question for ourselves.