Friday, November 30, 2012

Coming in January: Stuart Neville, RATLINES

UK cover on left; US cover on right.
The first three Irish crime novels from Stuart Neville -- The Ghost of Belfast, Collusion, and Stolen Souls -- drew me into the dark compulsions of Irish history. Liberally threaded with belief in the paranormal, these three make up the "Belfast  Trilogy" and convinced me that escaping the presence and pressures of history is rare, unusual, and maybe even impossible. The darker that history has been, the more the souls of its descendants have been scorched and warped by it. It's hard to picture a form of reparation that can atone for the horrors of oppression and poverty that Irish generations have sustained.

In Neville's newest thriller, RATLINES (Soho Crime, Jan. 2013), a different darkness emerges to drench the Irish in guilt and terror: that of Nazi collaborators and even Nazi leaders, welcomed into the island nation after the war, if they'll leave their past behind and contribute generously to the wealth of the communities around them. The book opens in 1963, with the Emerald Isle planning to welcome U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy to the land of his roots. Thus, when the third murder of a foreign national occurs within a short time in Ireland, just as it's vital to present the country as civilized and safe, Lieutenant Albert Ryan of the Directorate of Intelligence gets the call to investigate and quickly put to rest the crimes.

But there is no simple route for Ryan as he uncovers an intense, even incestuous, network of collaborators, still living the personal habits forged by Nazism  and Fascism in pre-war Germany. Ryan's obligations to his superiors and his assignment force him to protect German Colonel Otto Skorzeny, a task that turns his stomach. More pointedly, Ryan's personal life, from his aging parents to his wartime record to his accidentally acquired girlfriend, become hostages to his performance of his duty. Skorzeny is a terrible enemy, and even a treacherous and dangerous ally, as one informant tells Ryan:
Papers scattered as she slapped the tabletop with her palm. "If Otto Skorzeny desires a man's death, or a woman's, then death will come. Don't you know this? He plucked Mussolini from a mountaintop. He f**ed Evita right under PerĂ³n's nose. Then he robbed the fascist bastard blind and was thanked for it. This is his power. Not an office, not a title. No law will stop him."
But when duty leads to the preservation of evil people and works, and the repression of justice -- where does personal loyalty lie?

I highly recommend this book, to the point of suggesting a pre-order for it, so you'll have an early copy when January arrives.  I found myself arguing with only one page out of 352 -- and even so, I realize that page may be intended to launch a sequel, a thought so exciting that I can forgive one soft page after all. The rest of this book is tense, taut, and terribly insistent: Evil exists. What can we do but make our choices and strive to protect our lives and loves?

1 comment:

Stuart Neville said...

Many thanks for this kind review! I really appreciate it.