Ratlines: a system of escape routes for Nazis and other fascists fleeing Europe at the end of World War II.
It is 1963 when Lieutenant Albert Ryan from the Directorate of Intelligence is asked to investigate the murder of Helmut Krauss, a German national, and two other foreigners who have recently been murdered. With President John F. Kennedy visit to Ireland only a few weeks away Minister for Justice Charles Haughey wants the killings to stop before they interfere with the first ever visit of a foreign head of state to Ireland. The three murder victims were all Nazis who had been granted asylum in Ireland after the end of World War II, a fact that has to remain a dirty secret.
A note left on Krauss’ body indicates that the killers are after Colonel Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favourite commando. And Skorzeny is still a powerful man. With connections to Haughey and the means to conduct his own investigations, he is determined to use Ryan in order to find those who are after him, regardless of the costs.
As Ryan investigates he finds himself caught up in a battle in which there are no good guys. With Skorzeny, with Haughey’s help, pushing him from one side and the killers applying pressure from the other Ryan finds himself caught between his duty to his country and his conscience. And it isn’t long before his fight for justice turns into a struggle to keep himself and the young woman he has met alive. In the middle of a struggle between two different evils, doing the right thing may well turn out to be impossible if not deadly.
Phew, what a book.
Stuart Neville has, once again, delivered a well plotted and heart-stopping thriller. There are numerous twists and turns in this story as well as an endless amount of interesting angles. The plot, as described above, would be more then enough to keep any reader on the edge of their seat but Neville adds extra tension through Ryan’s background. As a protestant who joined the British army during World War II, Albert Ryan is almost more despised in Ireland of the 1960’s than the Nazi’s are; something he gets thrown in his face on more then one occasion. And the fact that Ryan was part of the war, has seen the horrible acts the German’s committed with his own eyes, means that the question as to exactly where his loyalty should lie an almost impossible one to answer.
Stuart Neville doesn’t shy away from violence in his books, and this one is no exception. There are scenes in this book that I would happily have ignored had they not been completely realistic and fitting to the story. The description of the character who would happily torture people in the most horrific ways but cried when his dog was killed was too chilling for words, and all the more real for it.
This is not a book that comes with clear cut answers or a nice clean resolution when the story ends. This is however a story that will make the reader think and I’m sure it is a book that will stay with me for a long time.
Stuart Neville is a wonderful author. His writing is smooth and clear, his characters realistic and compelling and the dialogue sounds true. The way he describes the action makes it easy for the reader to picture exactly what is going on. In fact, as I said before, there were a few occasions when I wouldn’t have minded if it had been a little bit harder to picture exactly what he was describing.
The most fascinating thing about this book may well be that part of it is based on fact :
From the author’s note:
“These things are known to be true: Dozens of Nazis and Axis collaborators sought refuge in Ireland following the Second World War; in 1957 Otto Skorzeny was welcomed to a country club reception by the young politician Charles Haughey; Otto Skorzeny purchased Martinstown House in Kildare in 1959; in 1963, in response to a question by Dr. Noël Browne TD the Minister for Justice Charles Haughey told the Irish parliament that Otto Skorzeny had never been resident in Ireland. The rest is just a story.”
The most chilling thing about this book, for me, is that it is only too easy to imagine that the rest, which is “just a story”, could also be true.
This is a fascinating page-turner for those who are not squeamish, an action filled roller-coaster with an intriguing plot and compelling characters. This is a must read for anyone who loves a well plotted historical thriller.