"'The Irish have long memories,' Rabbi Hempel said. 'I have lived in Ireland for more than ten years, and this was my first understanding of its people. Were it not so, perhaps Britain might have had another ally against the Germans. Instead, Ireland sat on its hands and watched as Europe burned.'"
Stuart Neville's new standalone, Ratlines deals very much with long Irish memories. Its 1963, and for the first time ever, a sitting President of the United States is about to come to Ireland, so the government is really sensitive to the possibility of any scandal that might jeopardize such a momentous occasion.
But Ireland had been neutral during The Emergency, as they called WWII, and now were turning a blind eye to some of the more unsavory immigrants from that time. Lieutenant Albert Ryan had fought with the British against the Nazis, and works for the Directorate of Intelligence. When a German is found dead, the third such foreigner to be murdered within just a few days, Ryan is assigned to stop the killings before the truth is exposed: that they were all Nazis who had been granted asylum.
Ryan's good at his job, and discovers quickly that these murdered men were all linked to Colonel Otto Skorzeny, one of Hitler's favored commandos, the man who daringly saved Mussolini.
"Ryan still dreamed of them. Not as often as he used to, but sometimes. He thanked God he had not entered the camps. The stories travelled across Europe's wastelands, about the living skeletons, the mass graves, the bodies stacked high, half burned, half buried.
"Men like Skorzeny had done that. Willingly.
"And now Ryan was protecting them."
What happens throughout Ratlines is noir at its finest. Stuart Neville has the great talent to create very real characters, to make them real enough to care about, and then he runs them through hell. With an economy of words and a deft touch for imagery, Neville takes you deep into his world and along a journey where the cost of survival is incredibly high. Ratlines had me twitching to read the last page, just to see what happens.
This is not a fun, light, breezy read. Ratlines is for people who are willing to walk on the dark side of life, to go along on an inexorable journey, possibly toward redemption and justice, but definitely toward evening the score. Bad things happen and its Stuart Neville's incredible talent that keeps you wound into the story all the way to the end. If you're a fan of noir, this is the book of the year.