It’s reasonable to assume that most people are in favour of fairness, justice and the rule of law, which is one reason why crime / mystery writing is the most popular of literary genres. It’s also why the genre is considered essentially conservative in nature. Most crime novels tend to conclude with the reaffirmation of the status quo, a conclusion that chimes with our understanding of history’s narrative, in which – simplistically put – the forces of good triumph over those of evil.For the rest, clickety-click here …
Stuart Neville’s debut novel, The Twelve (2009), dug beneath the headlines of the Peace Process to explore the complexities involved in maintaining the essential fictions of Northern Ireland’s post-‘Troubles’ era. His subsequent offerings, Collusion (2011) and Stolen Souls (2012), make up a loose trilogy of Belfast-set novels, but his latest, Ratlines, is set in the South, in 1963. With John F. Kennedy’s visit imminent, a number of former Nazis domiciled in Ireland have been murdered. The Minister for Justice, Charles Haughey, commissions Lieutenant Albert Ryan of the Irish military’s G2 section to investigate, but Haughey, friend and protector of the notorious Nazi commando Otto Skorzeny, may have one or two skeletons dancing in his own closet.
Haughey and Skorzeny play major roles in Ratlines, with other historical figures also appearing as minor characters, but Neville isn’t simply invoking their names for the sake of colourful verisimilitude. The novel is framed as a conventional paranoid thriller, employing the swift pace and switchback reversals of fortune the genre demands, but there is a significant breadth and depth to the historical context that gives the story real heft. How moral was the Irish position of neutrality during ‘the Emergency’, aka World War II? How was that morality compromised by subsequent Irish governments’ laissez-faire attitude to former Nazis settling in the Ireland in the decades following the war? What kind of status quo was Ireland happy to maintain in the 1950s and 1960s? Are we entitled to ignore the skeletons that dance in the nation’s closet and still consider ourselves one of the good guys?
Neville isn’t necessarily in the business of rewriting Irish history, but in the character of the callow Albert Ryan, himself an ex-British soldier, he does offer us an alternative way of looking at our recent past. The result is a powerful thriller which provides the requisite thrills and spills, but also a thought-provoking exploration of our understanding of who we really are.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs Spy
Ruth Dudley Edwards and Michael Connelly. But first, Stuart Neville’s RATLINES. To wit: