Neville, Stuart - 'Ratlines'
It is 1963 in Dublin, Ireland and the country is looking forward to the expected visit by John F Kennedy, the US President. Charles Haughey, Minister for Justice is desperate to conceal a terrible secret, which is that three fugitive Nazi war criminals have been killed on Irish soil and all the men were originally given political asylum by the Irish Government. The third man to be killed was found to have a note concealed on the body 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'. These men have escaped justice by seeking sanctuary in Ireland, either as a permanent residents or as a stop off point in their fleeing to South America, using the 'ratlines', a network of escape routes, their flight to Ireland has remained largely unaffected until their identities become known and the systematic killing begins.
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? Ryan comes from Ireland, a country that was basically neutral during the Second World War or "Emergency", as the Irish called it and had no need to fight on behalf of the Allies but like 100,000 others of his countrymen, he joined the British forces and faced death and killed for a cause he believed in. Though his parents faced real hardship from their fellow countrymen because of Albert's decision. At the end of the war he continued in the forces and was eventually sent to Korea for the conflict out there. It was only following the cessation of violence that he was invited to join the Directorate of Intelligence, where he now works and as a result has got his present assignment.
Ryan following an introduction from Charles Haughey, meets Colonel Otto Skorzeny and discovers what his deepest fears are. He also examines his own conscience in the light of the experiences he had during the War and the friends that he lost battling against the Nazi terror and whether in the current circumstances he has any sympathy for some-one who has prospered whilst so many have died. Ryan discovers that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence body, have an interest in Otto Skorzeny. Lieutenant Ryan gets closer to Colonel Skorzeny and discusses with him the possible identity of some of his enemies. The book continues on with its very intriguing plot until the exciting conclusion.
This was a most unusual departure by this author from his previous novels which followed the triumphant publication of THE TWELVE (known as THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST in the USA) and the two successor books and it is a historic thriller set in an era that is not much mentioned. According to the author in a note at the end of the book, dozens of Nazi 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 but in 1963 in response to a question in the Irish Parliament, Charles Haughey, the then Minister for Justice said that Otto Skorzeny had never been resident in Ireland.
There is a need in the telling of this particular novel for descriptions of a great deal of violence which some readers may feel are offensive but which are necessary to the story, but that was equally true of the author's first book which I also read. I was most impressed by this quite exceptional story. His protagonist Lieutenant Albert Ryan was most memorable as a sort Irish James Bond but more down to earth than Bond ever was, I hope we see further books with him featured as I would like to discover more about him. I was gripped by this tremendous page turner, that was expertly researched and full of excellent period detail and which I could not put down until the last page. Well recommended.
Read another review of RATLINES.
Terry Halligan, England