It’s 1963 and John F Kennedy is about to make his historic visit to Ireland, the first by any US President. Only thing is there is a serial killer on the loose. Now, this wouldn’t normally be a problem for Irish Justice Minister Charles J Haughey except for the inconvenient fact that so far all of the killer’s victims are former Nazis and Nazi collaborators who sought refuge in Ireland after ‘the Emergency’.
As if that isn’t awkward enough, a note pinned to the body of the latest victim warns that the next name on the list is Colonel Otto Skorzany, the man who sprung Mussolini from the hands of the Italian partisans. Revelations about Ireland harbouring prominent Nazis might just scupper the presidential visit and Dublin can’t afford to lose the prestige that it would confer on the nation.
Haughey can’t trust the Garda Síochána to sort this out discretely without putting his own friendship with Skorzany under the spotlight, so he calls in G2 intelligence agent Lieutenant Albert Ryan to protect Skorzany and find the killer. As a Protestant who fought against the Nazis for the detested Brits in ‘the Emergency’ Ryan faces the personal dilemma of having to protect a man who represents that hated regime which was responsible for the deaths of millions of people.
This is a fantastic thriller packed full of double and triple cross as Ryan tracks down the killer. There’s a high body count and some genuinely brutal torture scenes, but author Stuart Neville does not use this brutality to titillate, it is essential for plot and character development. All the characters are really nicely drawn, especially those who were real people like Haughey and Skorzany, and the environment of 1960s Ireland with its complex political and social issues is beautifully evoked.
Is it horror? Well I reckon serial murders and Nazis just about slides Ratlines under the horror net, but whatever genre you want to stamp on the cover of Ratlines, it’s a superior thriller by a relatively new author, who is worth keeping an eye on. Neville’s literary style with its troubled hero figure and quite despicable villains, not to mention some of the lowlifes who are essential side characters, reminded me very much of Tartan Noir writers like Ian Rankin or Peter May and just as with those authors I found his book very hard to put down.
Ratlines is out now in paperback and as a kindle download from Vintage Books.
Discover more about Stuart Neville here.
Follow Stuart on Twitter.
Otto Skorzany was a favourite of Hitler who aside from leading the raid to spring Mussolini also participated in attempts to kidnap Marshall Tito and to murder, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin in Tehran. In 1947 he was tried for firing on American soldiers while wearing an American Army uniform during the Battle of the Bulge for which he was acquitted due to lack of proof.
Skorzany first visited Ireland in 1957 when he was introduced to Charles Haughey and bought a property in County Kildare in 1963. He was however refused a residency visa so his stays were limited to periods of six weeks during which he was monitored by G2 intelligence. Discover more about Colonel Skorzany here.
For your further reading pleasure:
Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin: Detective Inspector Rebus is drafted from Edinburgh by the Met to hunt down the Wolf, a murderer who takes a bite from each of his victims.
The Black House by Peter May: Detective Inspector Fin Macleod returns home to the Isle of Lewis to investigate a brutal murder and uncover his own dark repressed memories.
Review by Simon Ball
Connect with Simon: @RealShipsCook or here.