“One of the first things I became aware of was the divisiveness of his legacy,” says author Stuart Neville of former taoiseach Charles J Haughey. “When you consider that you can watch videos on YouTube of people dancing on his grave, that gives you a measure of how strongly some people feel about him.”For the rest, clickety-click here …
Charles Haughey appears as a character in Neville’s latest novel, Ratlines, which is set in 1963. As Ireland eagerly awaits the arrival of John F Kennedy, a number of former Nazis and Nazi sympathisers are discovered murdered. Albert Ryan of G2, the Irish military’s equivalent of MI5, is commissioned by Minister for Justice Charles Haughey to investigate the murders, but Haughey is himself on first-name terms with the former Waffen SS commando Otto Skorzeny, a man famous for rescuing Benito Mussolini from captivity in 1943.
“I was vaguely aware of Haughey when he was in power,” says Neville, who was born in Armagh and grew up in the 1980s, “because I’d have had an above-average interest in politics. But I’d have been very aware of him by the time the Moriarty Tribunal came around.”
Neville is fascinated by all facets of Haughey’s career and legacy, “over and above the ‘cute hoor’ caricature that he became known for”, he says. “He’s a gift of a character. You couldn’t make him up. He was a very progressive politician in many ways, and terribly conservative in others. A complicated man. Like anybody in real life, and any good character in a book, he’s not black-and-white, there’s lots of light and shade there.”
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Taoiseach, Nazi, Soldier, Spy
RATLINES (Harvill Secker), involves the historical figures of former Irish taoiseach Charlie Haughey and former Nazi commando Otto Skorzeny, both of whom try to manipulate the fictional Albert Ryan, an ex-British solider and currently (in 1963, when the book is set) a G2 operative, G2 being the Irish military’s secret service. Hence the inspired headline ‘Taoiseach, Nazi, Soldier, Spy’ that ran across my interview with Stuart when it appeared in the Irish Times on Wednesday. It opened up a lot like this: