In the US melting pot, nearly 35 million Americans claim Irish ancestry. The only claimed ancestry outpacing Irish in the US is German. But I'll bet the majority of Irish-Americans (and German-Americans, for that matter) are unaware of Ireland's role in World War II.
Ireland adopted a policy of neutrality during the war––or the "Emergency," as it was called in Ireland. As with other neutral countries, like Switzerland and Portugal, Ireland's main concern was to avoid an invasion by either Britain or Germany. There were other reasons, too. The Irish were war weary, after World War I, the Irish War of Independence from 1919-1921, and the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. No wonder most Irish citizens were in favor of neutrality.
But just because the Irish state was officially neutral, that doesn't mean that there weren't strong feelings about the World War II combatant powers. Irish citizens could volunteer to serve in the British armed forces, and around 50,000 did just that. On the other hand, some felt that Nazism was an understandable nationalist movement, like the one that led to Ireland's independence. And some nationalists, including some IRA members, took the view that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, meaning anybody opposing the British must be right. The IRA shared intelligence with Germany's Abwehr, in hopes that a German victory might result in the British being removed from the north, resulting in a united and independent Irish state.
Neville's protagonist, Albert Ryan, fought in the British Army during the war and is an agent now in Ireland's Directorate of Intelligence. In the spring of 1963, he's ordered to report to Charles Haughey, the Minister for Justice, for a special assignment. Haughey tells Ryan to find out who is targeting and killing former Nazis in Ireland, and to do it before they can get to Skorzeny or generate enough negative publicity to jeopardize the upcoming visit by US President John F. Kennedy.
The classic loner lawman, Ryan has nobody to trust. Even his new girlfriend, Celia, has connections that make Ryan wonder about her loyalties. Ryan takes on all comers in a game that will risk everything, but that will let Ryan live and be his own man if he can pull it off. For espionage thriller readers, this is an exciting work of fiction that takes advantage of an unusual and little-known moment in history.
Ratlines will be published on January 1, 2013 by Soho Crime.
Note: I received a free publisher's review copy of Ratlines.
* * *
Sarah Shaber is best known for her Simon Shaw series, having won the Malice Domestic award for Best First Traditional Mystery for Simon Said. Shaber strikes out in a different direction in her new series, featuring Louise Pearlie, a young widow who has left her home in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1942, to move into a rooming house in Washington, D.C., and a job at the new intelligence agency, the OSS.
Louise comes across a file on Gerald Bloch, a French hydrology expert who is a Jew trapped in Vichy France. The file is about to be forwarded to the higher-ups at the OSS, so that they may decide whether to smuggle Bloch and his family out of France and use his expertise on North African aquatic geography in a possible future invasion. Louise is shocked to see that Bloch's wife is her closest college friend, Rachel, whom Louise has been worried sick about.
Louise's disquiet intensifies when her boss, who had the file, is found dead in his office and the file goes missing. Louise doesn't know who is responsible for making the file disappear, so she has to do her own investigation on the sly, knowing that time may soon run out for Rachel and Gerald.
Shaber cranks up the intrigue as Louise tries to resurrect the file that may rescue her old friend. Is there anyone in the office she can trust? And what about at the boarding house? Joe, the émigré who lives upstairs, is attractive, but may not be who he says he is. Ada, down the hall, seems to be keeping secrets too.
This was a satisfying, traditional, period-piece of a mystery. Its style reminded me a little of an Agatha Christie. If it had been told in third person, rather than first person, it might have been even more like a Christie story. I'll be the reading the second in the series, Louise's Gamble, as soon as possible.
Louise's War was published by Severn House Publishers in 2011.
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