Ratlines by Stuart Neville
Read an excerpt on the author’s website here.
Everywhere I look recently there appears to be a mention of Ratlines and to be honest it is no surprise – it is that good! A remarkable work that blends real historical figures into fictional events set against a backdrop of the oft overlooked Nazis that escaped to Ireland following World War II (or The Emergency in local parlance). I read and enjoyed Neville’s first book The Ghosts of Belfast aka The Twelve but haven’t kept up with his more recent output but this is definitely better for me.
There are a number of things that this book has going for it before we even get to the plot and the style with which it is delivered. Let’s start with the depiction of Charles J. Haughey as Minister for Justice, shall we? One of the real people included in the book and certainly a realistic but not flattering portrayal but then someone who managed to ascend to the pinnacle of the political world in Ireland while tainted by gun-running, illegal phone-tapping and corruption (as it so beautifully phrased herein “the minister does like to take full advantage of our credit service” – one has to know the full story of CJH to know what an understatement this is!). The other real person of central importance to the plot is Otto Skorzeny, an ex-Nazi now resident in Ireland. Check out this article from The Telegraph newspaper to get a brief insight into these events.
Ratlines refer to the escape routes setup to ferry Nazis out of Europe to more welcoming countries where their past misdeeds would be overlooked either due to financial inducements or a particular expertise being sought after. Otto Skorzeny is at the centre of a number of these routes and has access to extensive funds to grease the wheels if necessary and to establish his former colleagues in their new identities and locations. Unfortunately a number of his associates in Ireland have been murdered and through his friendship with the Minister for Justice prevails upon on Albert Ryan of the Directorate of Intelligence to investigate. Ryan is in a more fortunate position that many like him that joined the British Army to fight against Hitler as he is not subject to the same active discrimination on behalf of the State that they were though he and his family are still on the receiving end of those prejudices from neighbours. Ryan has fought against the Germans through Europe and to be placed in the invidious position of however indirectly protecting one of their number is never going to sit easily with him and certainly not when directed to investigate Ireland’s small Jewish community. But that is just the beginning of an intricate tale that will encompass murder, torture, double-crosses, extortion, ex-SAS commandos and Mossad.
My rating is 10 out of 10.
‘Right at the end of the war, some Nazis saw it coming. They knew that even if they escaped, hundreds of others wouldn’t. They needed to set up routes, channels, ways out for their friends. Ratlines.’
Ireland, 1963. As the Irish people prepare to welcome President John F. Kennedy to the land of his ancestors, a German is murdered in a seaside guesthouse. He is the third foreign national to die within a few days, and Minister for Justice Charles Haughey is desperate to protect a shameful secret: the dead men were all former Nazis granted asylum by the Irish government.
A note from the killers is found on the corpse, addressed to Colonel Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favourite WWII commando, once called the most dangerous man in Europe. It says simply: ‘We are coming for you. Await our call.’
Lieutenant Albert Ryan, Directorate of Intelligence, is ordered to investigate the crimes. But as he infiltrates Ireland’s secret network of former Nazis and collaborators, Ryan must choose between country and conscience. Why must he protect the very people he fought against twenty years before? And who are the killers seeking revenge for the horrors of the Second World War?