A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.
Ratlines, by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime):
Coming off the success of three novels (beginning with The Ghosts of Belfast) set in his native Northern Ireland, Stuart Neville now transports readers south and back half a century to the Republic of Ireland, where homicide threatens to overshadow what could be one of the country’s proudest moments. It’s 1963, and American President John F. Kennedy is planning a visit to Ireland, his family’s ancestral home. But trouble is brewing. An aging German national has been found shot to death in a coastal guesthouse. It’s the third such slaying in a fortnight, all of the victims former Nazis who were granted asylum in Ireland after the end of World War II. Hoping to curtail this string of killings before it develops into a national or even international scandal, Minister of Justice Charles J. Haughey (“a politician with boundless ambition and the balls to back it up”) orders Lieutenant Albert Ryan of the Directorate of Intelligence to investigate. Quietly, of course, since Dublin officials don’t wish to draw excessive attention to their history of harboring ex-Nazis. Ryan’s known as a big, tough young cuss who actually volunteered to fight with the British Army, despite his hometown’s disgust with the Crown, and who has since kept a heel on the Irish Republican Army. He is also, though, a man with a conscience, and his conscience is disturbed by the notion of protecting war criminals. Especially Otto Skorzeny, an erstwhile SS colonel--“once called the most dangerous man in Europe”--who has set himself up as a “gentleman farmer” and minor celebrity in County Kildare. A legendary tactician, Skorzeny believes he can control Ryan, use him as a shield against whoever’s threatening Nazi “refugees” like himself, and as a shovel to unearth his enemies. To ensure the younger man’s cooperation, Skorzeny even tosses into his path a fetching redhead, whose job it is to report on Ryan’s thoughts and plans. However, as Ryan probes the case further, checking into allegations that a Jewish cabal is behind the recent slayings and attracting sometimes violent attention to his person, he discovers that Skorzeny is running a network that helps war criminals escape Europe. Can Ryan bring down this tale’s killers before they make good on their promise to remove Otto Skorzeny from
among the living? Does he want to? Author Neville’s combination of smartly conceived characters, high-strung tension, and moral quandaries makes Ratlines a pell-mell-paced treat.
READ MORE: “Taoiseach, Nazi, Soldier, Spy,” by Declan Burke
(The Irish Times).