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Neville, Stuart - 'Ratlines'
Hardback: 416 pages (Jan. 2013) Publisher: Harvill Secker ISBN: 1846557372

"Who made your suit?" Haughey asked.
Ryan sat silent for a few seconds before he realised the question had been spoken in his direction. He cleared his throat and said, "The tailor in my home town."
"And where's that?"
"Jesus." Haughey snorted. "What's your father, a pig farmer?"

Galway, Ireland, 1963, and the gunman tucks an envelope into a man's pocket before he shoots him. In Dublin next morning Lieutenant Albert Ryan waits with the Director of Intelligence in the office of Charles Haughey, Minister for Justice. It seems that the businessman's death in a Salthill guest-house has political repercussions, for in another life the murdered man had been SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Krauss and he is the third foreign nationalist to be killed in Ireland in the past two weeks. All were shot at close range and all were "guests of the country". A note addressed to Colonel Otto Skorzeny was found on the body. Skorzeny, the powerful, infamous, Nazi adventurer and "soldier hero", is also a guest of the country and the note reads, "We are coming for you". Haughey tells Ryan to get to the bottom of the killings and put a stop to them. He is to report to Haughey and Skorzeny personally. Accordingly he should get himself a new suit and Haughey will give him the address of his tailor.

Ryan travels to Salthill to examine the murder scene and interview the pathologist. He returns to Dublin via a night at his family home in Carrickmacree. It wasn't easy to grow up in a protestant family in pre-war Ireland and Ryan made life even harder with his decision to join the Brits in the war against Germany. His family suffers the consequences and recently his father has been unable to get suppliers for his small shop in the town. Before he returns to Dublin, Ryan calls in on the local Trades Association to get the situation straightened out - which he does with his fists. Back in Dublin he visits the Jewish community's Rabbi. Haughey has assumed that the murders are the work of a Jewish organisation but Rabbi Hempel assures Ryan that the community is too small and its members too old to be housing a group of disaffected revenge-seekers. As Ryan pulls out of the Rabbi's drive he spots a car with two men in it following him but at this point Ryan doesn't give much thought to his shadow, he has a suit to collect and a meeting to attend.

After three successful Belfast-themed crime novels featuring DI Jack Lennon, the most recent of which was STOLEN SOULS, Stuart Neville has changed place, era and protagonist for his fourth novel, RATLINES. The title refers to the escape routes used by prominent Nazis and fascists after the Second World War to establish new lives and identities in foreign countries and the story takes us to Ireland in 1963 where the Republic has become just such a safe haven for some of the incognito Nazis and their fellow-travellers - with or without the knowledge of prominent politicians. A spate of murders amongst this guest community leads the politically ambitious Minister for Justice, Charles Haughey to involve Military Intelligence in the hunt for the killers and their informants.

Having enjoyed Stuart Neville's previous novels, I was unsure about his departure into historical territory with RATLINES. But I shouldn't have been. His latest book proves him to be a thriller writer with more than one string to his bow. He has created a reticent and almost na´ve character who is also a skilled soldier-protagonist with Albert Ryan and tackles the ambivalent real-life characters of Haughey and Skorzeny with relish. His "Charlie Haughey" is an unpleasant, calculating and arrogant man who very much enjoys the benefits of mixing with the famous including the notorious albeit "denazified" Colonel Otto Skorzeny. Then there is the beautiful Celia; honeypot or a genuine love interest for Albert? Although exploring a different period and political situation from his previous books, Neville continues to worry at the theme of corruption. Not just the corrupting powers of wealth, political ambition and political advantage but the paths down which corruption takes his characters. Neville can be equally unflinching in his use of violence and this book contains some scenes of torture. I was uneasy about them as I read them but I don't think they are gratuitous and that they serve a purpose in building the sense of menace and entrapment that drives some of the characters to desperate decisions. RATLINES is a convincing magnetic thriller which explores its characters - killers, hunters and victims alike - and leaves me in no doubt that Neville is a writer to read wherever he decides to set out his story.

Read another review of RATLINES.

Lynn Harvey, England
February 2013

Lynn blogs at Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 17/08/2013 20:34