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Ratlines by Stuart Neville
Cover Artist: Martin Hughes
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Soho Crime Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616952044
Date: 01 January 2013 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

It is 1963 and President John F. Kennedy will soon be visiting Dublin, Ireland. Charles J. Haughey, the slimy Minister for Justice, has ordered the stalwart Lieutenant Albert Ryan of the Directorate of Intelligence to learn who is assassinating Nazi war criminals who have been given asylum in Ireland. Ryan has always been looked upon as a traitor by his parents' neighbors because he fought for the British during World War II. Once again, he must form an alliance with enemies, chiefly Nazis and crooked Irish politicians. These politicians have created and benefited from escape routes, i.e., Ratlines, for Nazi scum, such as notorious Colonel Otto Skorzeny, who were fleeing Germany. Ryan risks his life to find the assassins, unaware that he has stumbled into a murderous web of deceit and betrayal that will greatly tax his conscience and force him to decide where his loyalties lie.

Stuart Neville's Ratlines is one of the most disturbing, controversial historical noir I have ever read. It is based on actual events, some of which I verified myself. I was appalled to learn that Jews were denied refuge in Ireland during WWII but Nazi criminals were given sanctuary after the war was over. Many of them -- such as Skorzeny, an actual man who lived -- brought with them great wealth, which the Oireachtas, the seat of Ireland's government, couldn't resist.

Ratlines is a violent, twisted noir with bloodshed galore. Readers must be warned that there are some scenes of graphic torture that are quite disturbing. Needless to say, no one will get bored reading it. Neville's writing style is superb and he provides enough historical details to lend credibility without hampering the plot. His characters, most of whom are evil, are profound. Poor Ryan, a likeable man, is up to his ears in enemies; he doesn't know who to trust. I would rather be thrown into a rattlesnake pit.

Every noir must have its requisite villain and the huge, scarred Colonel Otto Skorzeny perfectly fills those shoes. (He is like the villain in a James Bond movie; indeed, there are numerous references to the film Dr. No, which had recently been released in Ireland.) Many people, including myself, would like to see this mass murderer dead. Ryan is attempting to narrow down the list of suspects while trying to stay alive. Close behind Skorzeny in degree of evilness is CÚlestin LainÚ; he enjoys torturing and murdering with tools. The traitorous politician, Charles J. Haughey, who, like Skorzeny, actually existed in true life, is in a close third in regards to evilness. Naturally, there is also the requisite heroine, the beautiful Celia Hume, whom Ryan meets at a gala ball and is soon smitten by her.

Not recommended for the squeamish, Ratlines, however, will be appreciated by fans of historical noir. If one is unfamiliar with Irish history, be prepared for a few shocks. I was pleasantly thrilled to find Ratlines more enjoyable than Neville's highly acclaimed, highly lauded The Ghosts of Belfast and its two remarkable sequels, Collusion and Stolen Souls, all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Because of its shocking historical revelations, European settings, vicious killings, evil villains, and justice-seeking protagonist, Ratlines will probably soar to the top of the best-seller's list. In fact, Neville plans to write two sequels to Ratlines based on the life of Haughey, one of the most controversial figures in 20th century Irish politics. In the meantime, another Belfast novel, tentatively titled The Traveller, is slated for publication in the near future.

I am definitely committed to reading more of Stuart Neville's mysteries, whether they are set in modern Belfast or in historical Dublin.

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