Archive for March 22, 2013

51HrSuGfaBL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ Ireland 1963.

A German business man is murdered in a guesthouse at Salthill just outside Galway City. He is the third foreign national to be killed in a few days, and with the forthcoming visit of President John F. Kennedy young Irish Minister of Justice Charles J. Haughey must have the matter cleared up as quickly as possible. A note left on one corpse threatens famed SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Otto Skorzeny and therefore Haughey brings in a reluctant Albert Ryan to track down the killers.  Ryan works for G2, Directorate of Intelligence, but he is an outsider, a Protestant in a majority Catholic country and above all an Irishmen who fought with the British against the Nazis. Now he is asked to protect Nazis and a rag tag bag of nationalists who fought with them in the war, the Irish call  euphemistically ” The Emergency”. 

Author Stuart Neville in his fourth novel successfully blends real life characters Skorzeny [who rescued Mussolini in September 1943] , the  unpleasant future Taoiseach Haughey, and Breton nationalist Celestin Laine along with his fictional creations, Ryan, the beautiful Celia Hume, various mercenaries and Mossad agents. The Ratlines of the title are the escape routes from Europe for Nazis and collaborators organised with the money held by Skorzeny and his associates. 

We know, for example, that Martin Bormann siphoned off a huge fortune right out of Hitler’s pockets. In 1945, when the end came, as far as we know, Bormann never made it out of Berlin. But the money did. Eight hundred million dollars wound up in Eva Peron’s bank account, not to mention the gold bullion and the diamonds. We are talking enough money to run a small country.

I knew that President De Valera with “strict neutrality” had expressed condolences to Admiral Doenitz [Hitler’s successor as German head of state] on the death of the Fuhrer, but I did not know of the extent of the sanctuary and protection given to Nazis by the Irish Republic. 

The set up of the situation with Ryan’s difficult choice between his conscience and following orders is very well done. But I felt the book lost its way a bit with Ryan becoming just an Irish version of James Bond. He survives some graphically described torture, but is able to make love to the beautiful Celia despite physical violence that would put most men out of action. 

But I think I can forgive this minor weakness in the narrative and some interesting plot twists that did not convince me, because the novel is well written, tense and exposes a part of Irish and world history that many would like to forget. 

‘Perhaps,’ she said. ‘If I had known the truth of it, the Germans who promised us so much, if I’d known what they were doing to those people, the Jews, the Roma, the homosexuals, I would have made a different choice. Do you believe me?