Seventeen years in the writing, British crime writer Howard Linskey's labour of love is based on real events from 1942, when two assassins targetted "the man with the iron heart", Reinnhard Heydrich. While Heydrich is perhaps less known to a modern readership than others who rose to the top of the Nazi regime, he was perhaps the man who could have been Hitler's heir, and the story behind his assassination shows how much of a threat he represented in the war's early stages.
Linskey opens the book with a foreword about his own fascination with "Operation Anthropoid", but then steps back and allows his characters to do the talking. He may be obssessed with this period of history, but as an experienced novelist, he also knows how to tell a story that will really hook the reader,
A big problem with many novels set during this era is an urge on the part of the author to show off their research, but Linskey manages to add depth and context to his world without overwhelming the reader; the art of showing instead of telling is on fine display here.
Linskey's decision to show both the allies and Nazi POVs also results in some of the book's best scenes. As thrilling as the build up to the assassination is, where the book really chills is in the scenes where we learn of Heydrich's plans as regards "the final solution", and the political fighting among the higher level Nazis as they each attempt to curry favour with Hitler while assuring that no one else is alongside them.
But the story of Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis - the two men looking to kill Heydrich - is what drives this book, and the tension as they implement their plan becomes unbearable in the later stage. But as boys-own-adventure as the premise may be, Linskey never forgets the cost of war and the real cost of decisions made in the heat of the battle. In an afterword, he quotes from a memorial to the two men: "Freedom is something that has to be paid for." The Man With the Iron Heart never forgets that it is dealing with real world events and personalities, and that while Operation Anthropoid was important in winning the war, it came with other consequences that were more personally devastating.
Linskey's earlier novels with No Exit Press - and his later novels for Penguin - have established him as a crime novelist and noirist par-excellence, but Hunting the Hangman shows another side to Linskey, with a book that will appeal not just to thriller readers, but to anyone with an interest in 20th century history.
Although I spend much of my time reading for edits rather than pleasure, I still try and fit in reading for fun. This occasional blog will record brief thoughts on some of the books I'm reading on my "off time"
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