The title of Stuart Neville's standalone thriller Ratlines refers to the underground network that helped former Nazis and their associates escape Germany after the Second World War, one of which led to the Republic of Ireland, which remained neutral during the war. The year is 1963: President Kennedy is planning a visit to his ancestral country, and Nazi war criminals living there are being murdered. The nation's Minister for Justice orders Lieutenant Albert Ryan, an agent in the Directorate of Intelligence, to investigate the killings. Ryan doesn't like the assignment much, especially since he has to protect the next threatened target, the real-life figure Otto Skorzeny, a ruthless man and commando most famous for rescuing Mussolini in 1943 who plays an important role in the ratline network. Ryan finds that the lines between right and wrong are muddled, and the only moral compass he can follow is his own.
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--glossy but no less captivating. At first, Ryan seems like a rules-following government flack, but readers discover what he's made of when the bad guys mess with people close to him. Ryan takes matters into his hands, exposing a side that's dangerous--and exciting. He encounters some really nasty characters besides Skorzeny, but going up against them only makes his formidableness grow. He may struggle with crises of conscience, but readers will probably be squarely on his side and rooting for him to return in future novels. --Elyse Dinh-McCrilllis, freelance writer/editor, blogging at Pop Culture Nerd.