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A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Book of 2013
Praise for Ratlines
"Ratlines is a belter: fast, furious, bloody and good."
—Ian Rankin, New York Times bestselling author of Exit Music
"Ratlines is a brash and exciting thriller, full of hairpin turns and espionage. Even the film "Dr. No" makes an appearance, appropriate for a book that tries to create a James Bond with a lilt instead of a Connery-style brogue."
—The Christian Science Monitor
"The current master of neo-noir detective fiction."
"The moral ambiguities touch everyone.... This is complex fiction with a disturbing ring of truth."
"The plot reminds me of Jack Higgins at his very best.... This is a first-rate story that seizes the imagination, and never lets go."
—Daily Mail (UK)
"The author's clean, direct prose, well-utilised research, intricate plotting and deep characterisation all add up to a seriously impressive piece of crime fiction, that lingers long in the memory."
—The Independent (UK)
"Neville's writing is agile and atmospheric...creating a memorable monster in slippery, belligerent Haughey."
—The Guardian (UK)
"A Nazi-hunting thriller writhing with double and triple-crosses and a supremely colourful cast."
“Thrilling.... Readers will hope to see more of Ryan, a formidable yet damaged hero."
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
"Set in a time when James Bond was becoming popular, Neville's lean, mean prose tells a brutal story that's the opposite of 007...but no less captivating."
“The setup is real-life history and the rest is ‘just a story.’ But what a story it is!”
"Neville writes wonderfully, setting the scene in precise, economical prose; pitting well-defined, historically inspired characters in opposition to each other; and tangling the plotlines tantalizingly... With a character this strong, we want to see him fight to the finish."
"The best thrillers usually have the protagonist in a moral dilemma, and the dilemma here is a doozy… A brilliant character study of a man of real honour."
—The Globe and Mail
"[Ratlines] is the real goods....A gripping and violent narrative."
“There is a significant breadth and depth to the historical context that gives the story real heft...[Ratlines] 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.”
"[A] gripping mix of real-life history and compelling fictional characters."
—Stop You're Killing Me
“The first rule in getting a historical thriller right: characters first, historical details second. Stuart Neville aces it all. Grade: A.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Ratlines superbly and cleverly tells the story of a street-smart man who must find justice for those without voices, while playing various agencies against each other. Above all, he must survive being cast as a scapegoat and pawn."
—Barbara Tom, The Oregonian
"By the time I finished it, I was exhausted. I couldn’t put it down."
—Toronto Life Magazine
“This guy is a special talent.”
—The Irish Voice
"Well researched and extremely intriguing—all lovers of the historical and suspense genres will be absolutely blown away."
"Neville knows how to let a story rip with the best of them."
“Neville’s combination of smartly conceived characters, high-strung tension, and moral quandaries makes Ratlines a pell-mell-paced treat.”
—The Rap Sheet
—The Galway Advertiser
“Stuart Neville’s books just get better and better and Ratlines is simply superb. A shocking moment in history is the backdrop to a hugely gripping thriller, and I really hope we see Albert Ryan again.”
—Mark Billingham, bestselling author of Rush of Blood
"A great book and the rest of the 2013 books will have to work hard to top it."
—Jon Jordan, Crimespree Magazine
“Wildly entertaining, Ratlines is a superb mystery but in addition, a spotlight on a slice of Irish history largely ignored. This is a complex mystery told in the exceptional style that Stuart Neville has made his own. Jameson and Nazis, Irish rebel songs and Charles Haughey, it's a bold and brilliant blend.”
—Ken Bruen, Shamus Award winning author of The Guard
“Hitler, Charlie Haughey and JFK? Now that’s what I call a set-up.”
—Declan Burke, award-winning author of Slaughter’s Hound
“The alliances and betrayals, the sharp characterizations, and the uncertain morality of all concerned keep the story leaning over the edge of conventional storytelling into an edgier and more interesting territory.... Ratlines is an excellent read.”
—Glenn Harper, International Noir Fiction
"Ratlines succeeds on so many fronts. An extremely well thought out murder mystery relentlessly pursued by a very human protagonist, all set in a world 'I thought I knew, but didn’t.'"
—Dan Malmon, Crimespree
“Real characters, such as Skorzeny and Haughey move alongside the fictional creations...fascinating.”
—Ted Hertel, Deadly Pleasures
"Neville, whose debut, The Ghosts of Belfast, won the 2010 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller, concocts a believable plot with an intriguing protagonist torn between duty to country and his distaste for Nazi criminals. Fans of Jack Higgins and Ken Follett will enjoy this noguavel."
“Another moody winner mixes Nazis into Neville's usual Irish noir.”
"Neville runs his conflicted hero through a perilous maze of intrigue and double-cross, echoing the "ratlines" at the core of this gritty, fascinating thriller."
—Winnipeg Free Press
"Gritty... A lot of great visuals."
—Good Morning Texas
“Hoo boy what a story!”
—New York Journal of Books
"Another top-notch novel from this author, and highly recommended."
—Midwest Book Review
“A well-constructed backdrop is provided to the political drama as it unfolds and the whodunit element is nicely introduced.”
Praise for Stuart Neville
“Neville’s novel is a coldly lucid assessment of the fragility of the Irish peace ... a rare example of legitimate noir fiction.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Stuart Neville belongs to a younger generation of writers for whom the region's darkest years are history—but that history endures, as his first novel, 'The Ghosts of Belfast,' shockingly demonstrates.... This noir thriller plays out in a Belfast that, even in summer sunshine, remains oppressively gray. The clannishness of its inhabitants is vividly evoked.... A riot scene, one of the novel's best, captures a new generation's appetite for blood and an old veteran's nostalgia.... In scene after gruesome scene, Neville attempts to persuade us that this time around, with this repentant murderer, the killing is different.”
“Neville's tightly wound, emotionally resonant account of an ex-IRA hit man's struggle to conquer his past, displays an acute understanding of the true state of Northern Ireland, still under the thumb of decades of violence and terrorism.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Stuart Neville is Ireland’s answer to Henning Mankell.”
“The Ghosts of Belfast is a tale of revenge and reconciliation shrouded in a bloody original crime thriller.... Brilliant.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“This guy is a special talent.”
“Neville’s debut novel is tragic, violent, exciting, plausible, and compelling.... The Ghosts of Belfast is dark, powerful, insightful, and hard to put down.”
“Neville slowly ratchets up the tension—and the violence—until each page practically twangs with suspense.”
Excerpted from Ratlines by Stuart Neville Copyright © 2013 by Stuart Neville. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Stuart Neville interview for Barnes & Noble
With Emily St. John Mandel
Set during the weeks leading up to President John F. Kennedy's historic 1963 visit to Ireland, Irish author Stuart Neville's new novel Ratlines addresses a sordid era in Ireland's past that includes the harboring of Nazis after World War II. In this interview author and critic Emily St. John Mandel discusses with Stuart the difficulties associated with dredging up a sensitive history.
Emily St. John Mandel: I very much enjoyed your new novel. I wonder if you'd talk a bit about the way the book came about. Ratlines is concerned in part with a disturbing fact of Irish history, which is that a large number of ex-Nazis were welcomed into the country following the Second World War. How did you come across this story, and what inspired you to use it as the basis for a new book?
Stuart Neville: I'd always been aware that some Nazis had come to Ireland after the war, but I'd assumed it was only a small number, and they'd sneaked into the country under some veil of secrecy. It wasn't until I saw a documentary by Cathal O'Shannon that I discovered not only had these Nazis and collaborators come in greater numbers than I'd imagined, they had entered Ireland with the full knowledge and agreement of the government. The Department of Justice, who were responsible for immigration and asylum seekers, had gone so far as to help some Nazis create new identities.
The more I looked into the subject, the more I felt there was a story to be found within it. I started talking to my UK editor, Geoff Mulligan, about it in the summer of 2009. He was very supportive of the idea.
EM: Researching this story must have been quite interesting. What did the research entail?
SN: It's a very different kind of research than a novel set in the present day. With a contemporary story, it's more about how things work — how do you operate a particular gun, how would a crime scene be handled, how are the streets of a particular part of a city laid out? With a historical, albeit one that's not set very far in the past, it's more about how things feel, the societal realities of the time, the attitudes of the people. I was very fortunate to have a couple of people to call on who had been around Dublin in the early 60s. For example, in an early draft, I had described a female character as wearing an off-the-shoulder dress. Both of my friends flagged that up, explaining that such a dress would have been scandalous in 1963 Dublin. So it's not about dates, facts or figures; it's about much less tangible yet crucially important things.
EM: Your Irish protagonist in Ratlines, Lieutenant Albert Ryan, is looked upon with suspicion by some of his fellow citizens for having fought alongside the British in the Second World War. While someone in Ratlines makes the argument that Ireland's neutrality in that war was based in part on the country's economic situation at the time, there's also a suggestion that the Irish hatred of the British was such that fighting alongside them against Hitler's regime was unthinkable. Was that the case?
SN: It's a complex and thorny issue, and it has to be viewed in historical context. Some people, particularly Northern Irish unionists, will use wartime neutrality as a stick to beat the Irish state with, claiming that it amounted to a tacit support for Nazi Germany. That's untrue and unfair. It's important to remember that Ireland had gone through the First World War, the 1916 Uprising, the War of Independence, and the Irish Civil War, all in the space of a decade. Ireland simply didn't have the strength to go to war, regardless of the cause. When you add to that widespread resentment of the British, it's impossible to see a way for the Ireland's leaders to persuade the populace to take up arms alongside a country that was a mortal enemy just a few years before. Even so, something in the order of 100,000 Irish men volunteered to fight for the British Army, of which my protagonist Albert Ryan was one.
It's also worth remembering that Irish neutrality was weighted towards the Allies. For example, Axis airmen who crash landed on Irish soil were imprisoned until the end of the war, whereas Allied airmen were brought to the border with Northern Ireland and allowed to re-enter the fight.
EM: The character in Ratlines whom I found most chilling was the ex-Nazi Otto Skorzeny, and I was fascinated to discover after I read your novel that he was a real historical figure, a highly decorated Nazi officer who spent time in Ireland in the 1960s. Is there much in the way of a historical record of Skorzeny's activities in Ireland, or were you left mostly to make up details based on your knowledge of what kind of man Skorzeny was?
SN: Not a great deal is known about Skorzeny's time in Ireland outside of him being treated as a celebrity by the society pages of the newspapers; they saw him as a kind of Scarlet Pimpernel character. There are a few details that I've worked into the book, like his driving a white Mercedes sports car, and having a German housekeeper who was married to a local Irishman.
A huge mythos has built up around Skorzeny in the decades since World War II, and it's difficult to untangle the truth from the fiction. In my research, I discovered that he hadn't really earned his notoriety in the war, that it had more to do with SS propaganda than any true feats of daring. He lived off that reputation for the rest of his days, encouraging the more fanciful rumors about himself. Many WW2 enthusiasts and historians have taken the tall tales as fact, which I suspect pleased Skorzeny greatly.
EM: Another of your characters is the politician Charles Haughey, also a real man. Are there special challenges in including real people in a fictional work?
SN: There are legal issues with writing about someone like Charles Haughey, so a lot of care had to be taken in how he was portrayed. The biggest challenge, though, was keeping him grounded as a character. Both he and Otto Skorzeny were larger-than-life men, and it would have been easy to slip into caricature. I had to try and capture their bravura without it becoming cartoonish.
EM: I read recently that while Skorzeny's post-war career included time spent in the Middle East trying to undermine Israel, he did eventually provide intelligence to Mossad. My understanding is that originally he agreed to work with them on condition that his name be expunged from Simon Wiesenthal's list of Nazi war criminals and the warrant for his arrest cancelled, but that he eventually decided to cooperate with Mossad even though Wiesenthal declined this request. I found this fascinating, and I wonder if, having researched Skorzeny, you have any theories on what motivated him at that point—guilt, a desire for redemption, money, something else?
SN: Again, so much of what has been written about Skorzeny is based on the fictions he wove around himself, it's hard to know what to believe. I've also read that he worked for the American government recruiting ex-Nazi rocket scientists for the space program, and as an overseer for the Werewolf paramilitary group made up of former Nazi soldiers who planned to stir up a revolution in Allied-occupied Germany. The list of exploits goes on and on, with little real evidence to support them.
As for his motivation, I think much of it must have been vanity. He seemed to revel in his own notoriety, in being an important and infamous warrior.
EM: One of the things I like about your work is the attention you pay to the long-term effects of violence; not just on those at the receiving end, but on those who perpetrate it. I'm thinking especially of the protagonist of your first novel, The Ghosts of Belfast, who is haunted in a very literal sense by the people whose deaths he brought about in his paramilitary days. As a reader and as a writer, it sometimes seems to me that reading and writing about the aftermath of violence can be more interesting than reading and writing scenes where the violence is actually taking place. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this.
SN: I take that as a compliment, so thank you! My work is often perceived as being very violent, but in reality, there isn't a huge amount of graphic violence on the page. I'll give you an example: I did a library reading for my second novel, Collusion, choosing a scene where a killer enters a house and stabs a man in the heart. A lady came up to me afterwards and said she thought the scene was terribly, shockingly violent. I pointed out to her that out of the four pages I read, there was only one sentence that actually described an act of violence. The rest was the anticipation of violence, which is much more frightening than the act itself.
I deal a lot in moral ambiguity. No one, no matter how evil they seem to us, regards themself as a villain. Everyone is the hero of their own story. That's what allows me to write from the point of view of a character like Gerry Fegan. He lives with the aftermath of his own violence very day. It's an interesting place to write about.
EM: Do you find the especially violent scenes difficult to write?
SN: From a technical point of view, writing violent action can be tricky in terms of choreography, but I don't get queasy in the process. I tend to write about the things that frighten me. As strange as it may sound, I have a terrible fear of injury — even the idea of cutting my finger makes me shudder — so I often describe the physical effects of violence as a way of confronting that fear. I also write about things that make me angry. When I was writing the first novel, a local news team uncovered a dogfighting club just five miles from where I lived. It made me so mad, I ended up working it into the story.
EM: Did you always know you wanted to write thrillers? I'm curious about what drew you to the genre.
SN: It's odd, because I started out trying to write horror. I wrote a novel that was supposed to be a ghost story, but the more I wrote, the more it took on thriller elements. My first three novels are in that same grey area between thriller and horror that authors like Thomas Harris and John Connolly work in. It's a product of my reading; the first “grown up” books I read as a teenager were Stephen King, but I moved towards crime writers like James Ellroy and Ted Lewis as I got older. Ratlines is the first pure thriller I've written.
Posted January 17, 2014
Posted January 4, 2014
Posted June 1, 2013
Starting with the historical fact that many Nazi war criminals escaped after World War II with fortunes stolen from their victims and became ensconced in various countries like Franco’s Spain, Peron’s Argentina and anti-British Ireland, Stuart Neville has created a first-rate mystery. The protagonist is a Lieutenant in the Directorate of Intelligence, Albert Ryan, who lied about his age to enlist in the British army and fought in the European theater, Egypt and Korea before returning home.
Ryan is asked at the behest of the Minister of Justice to investigate the murder of a German national, weeks before a pending visit by Pres. John F. Kennedy because he fears the publicity might force cancellation of the trip. The authorities are desirous of hiding the fact that the country is providing sanctuary to a bunch of Nazis. Ryan’s efforts become more complicated than a mere murder investigation, and thereby hangs one helluva tale.
The title refers to escape routes by which Nazis were able to travel, avoiding detection, and the methods used to finance their travels to and establishment in new locations. While based on historical fact, more important is the plot, which twists and turns in wholly unexpected directions. And the character study of Ryan is deep and penetrating. Another top-notch novel from this author, and highly recommended.
Posted May 6, 2013
Another great book from Stuart Neville. I fell in love with the Ghosts of Belfast and never looked back. I love the mystery and I have learned a lot about the history of the time period as well. I will be looking for other books now that deal with that time because I would like to learn more. Give this author a chance to pull you into his world - you will not be sorry! Not for the faint of heart.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 26, 2013
The author states this is fiction but it reads like it very well good have been true. If you are a fan of Irish writers, you will enjoy it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 12, 2013
This is my first bood to read of Stuart Neville and I will be reading more ofhis books. This is well written and the characters are interesting. If you havent read his books this is a good one to start.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 25, 2013
Posted December 26, 2013
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Posted February 15, 2013
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