Hunting the Hangman

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Written by Howard Linskey — Anyone who’s been reading lots of British crime fiction in recent years will have come across the work of Howard Linskey. Setting his books in the North East, he first covered Newcastle gangland in the series that began with The Drop. Then he moved on to the city of Durham and its environs, where investigative journalists Tom Carney and Helen Norton do their digging to bring justice. However, for 17 years Linskey has wanted to write about one of the most daring and symbolic Allied operations of World War II – the mission to kill Reinhard Heydrich.

Heydrich was a piece of work, and if evil were incarnate he it would be. He was Himmler’s ambitious protégé and had the blood of millions on his hands. He was responsible for the Einsatzgruppen, who travelled behind invading German armies to murder undesirable elements of the subjugated population, mostly in mass shootings. He chaired the Wannsee Conference in 1942, where the Final Solution to the Jewish Question was agreed. He was the Obergruppenfuhrer of the SS, and head of the police including the Gestapo. As Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia (Czechoslovakia) his duties included supressing Czech culture and killing off the Resistance; tasks which he pursued with bloodthirsty relish. He became known as The Hangman and The Butcher of Prague.

So, Linskey’s novel is based on Operation Anthropoid, the plot to kill this horrible Nazi. The Czech president Eduard Benes was in the UK, in exile, and his team were looking for a way to strike back against the Nazis. Czech soldiers who escaped to the UK after the invasion underwent training with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) in the hope that they could sneak back into Czechoslovakia to aid the Resistance. It was decided that assassinating Heydrich would send a message to Nazi command and to their fellow citizens that Czechoslovakia would endure, and that two men, working alone and in absolute secrecy would have a chance of success, even if it was essentially a suicide mission. With Churchill’s go-ahead, Operation Anthropoid was launched.

The book begins with the operation’s inception, and then takes us through the exhausting training of the potential candidates and the eventual selection of our heroes, Gabcik and Kubis. By the time the action moves to Prague, Linskey’s sympathetic portrait of the two men will have you invested in their success, though your enjoyment might be heightened if you don’t know too many of the facts about the mission or what its outcome was.

The meat of the novel takes place in Prague, and things do not run smoothly from the off. Gabcik turns his ankle during the parachute landing and it is only pure luck that saves them from discovery. The next farm along belongs to a collaborator, and the men would have no doubt been handed over to the Germans if they had approached the owner for help.

Tension builds as each unforeseen obstacle to a successful assassination arises, and it is gradually revealed what odds the pair face, particularly if they wish to survive.

Linksey has delivered a superior historical thriller. Operation Anthropoid must have been one of the most heroic and daring adventures of World War II, and his narrative includes characters from all sides. There are prominent Allied politicians, most of the senior Nazis, as well as the brave members of the Czech resistance movement. While there is plenty of action and peril, this is far from being a Boy’s Own-style adventure. Linskey captures absolutely the human drama – the hopes, the fears, the bravery, and even the cowardice.

Thanks to the success of The Drop and his other books Linskey is already a rising star of British crime fiction. Hunting the Hangman will do his reputation no harm whatsoever.

Only three weeks ago, Howard Linskey’s latest Tom Carney novel, The Search, came out. Read our full review here.

No Exit Press

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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