The Last Nazi by Andrew Turpin
The buried contents of a Nazi train. An aging SS mass-murderer. And the wartime secrets of a U.S. presidential hopeful’s Jewish family, hidden for seven decades.
War crimes investigator and ex-CIA officer Joe Johnson is more than intrigued when he learns of a link between the contents of a Nazi train, hidden by Hitler’s Third Reich, a ruthless blackmail plot, and financing for a U.S. presidential hopeful’s 2012 campaign.
But the investigation becomes bigger and more deeply personal than Johnson expects when it leads him toward an SS Holocaust killer who escaped his net years earlier, and propels him into a deadly conflict.
Soon there are high-level intelligence and criminal networks combining against Johnson across three continents.
He finds himself inextricably caught up in a terrifying quest to win justice, to avenge his mother’s tortured past and revive his flagging career.
With dramatic settings, explosive action and characters readers will come to love, The Last Nazi is a gripping full-length thriller—the first in a forthcoming series featuring Joe Johnson.
Q) The protagonist Joe Johnson, has a past and this is interwoven into the story. Can you tell us a little more about Joe?
A) Joe is a war crimes investigator who runs his own freelance business, based in Portland, Maine. Years ago, he worked for the CIA in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was fired after an operation went wrong and a badly timed affair, and then he did a long stint from 1992-2006 with the U.S. Government’s Office of Special Investigations, part of the Department of Justice – basically its Nazi-hunting unit. We meet him in 2011 at a time when he’s had a tough few years bringing up his two teenage children after the death of his wife in 2005, and when career-wise, he’s itching for a new challenge after spending a lot of time on “small-town” investigative jobs. So when he gets a lead with a possible Nazi linkage, he jumps at it. He’s a determined character with a strong desire to bring to justice those who have committed some of the worst kinds of crime – atrocities dating back years, often with sectarian and racist roots. He’s not afraid to take on senior politicians and intelligence organizations, who sometimes have vested interests in keeping these types of offenses hidden under the carpet. Part of his motivation stems from his mother, who suffered in a concentration camp during the Second World War.
Q) I am a complete ww2 nerd, the era, the fiction etc. What drew you to write about the era?
A) I’m fascinated by some of the big picture themes that were played out during that time and in the years that followed, many of which we have seen repeated many times over history. There is a fascination to the tussle between good and evil, the shades of grey in between, and the moral ambiguities and compromises that were made by many world leaders and their subordinates in the pursuit of power and influence as the cornerstones of what became the Cold War were put in place. And I’m interested by some of the questions thrown off from this and other wars: what drives sectarian and religious conflict and how could a nation’s population fall in so readily behind someone like Hitler? I guess the parallels to the present day, when leaders such as Donald Trump are dividing opinions so sharply, are there for everyone to see and forces us to take a fresh look at history.
Q) The novel focuses on the discovery of the contents of a Nazi train. Was this inspired by a real-life event?
A) It was in part! When I was planning the novel, in late 2015, there was a lot of media attention on the possibility that a Nazi train containing gold and jewellery that had been looted by Hitler’s Third Reich from across Europe was hidden in secret tunnels beneath Książ Castle, in Walbrzych, Poland. Then a few months later, the historian Dan Snow did a BBC documentary about it. Search teams have so far come up with nothing. However, I started reading up on the extensive tunnel complexes in that area, which were built by the Nazis using mainly Jewish labour from concentration camps. It triggered a “what if?” moment, which rapidly took the thoughts around my plot in a new direction. I had been looking for plot and protagonist ideas that would enable me to link together historical events and current affairs, and that crystallised things for me quite significantly.
Q) The novels evil character is a SS holocaust kill and mass murderer. Is it difficult to write such dark characters?
A) It’s difficult on multiple levels. Firstly, it requires significant research to build a character’s backstory and CV that is as plausible as possible, and to portray the person’s actions in a way that might fit with those of a real-life SS officer at that time. Secondly, there is the question of motivation. I found it just as interesting to focus on the impact on the SS man’s son of having a father like that. How would it feel to have a dad who had done such unspeakable things in the past, and how could it be possible to build any kind of real relationship with such a person? I found it a real challenge – and I’m not at all sure how well I did it!
Q) What is your research process? Have you uncovered anything that shocked you?
A) I spent a lot of time reading online, trawling through documents and going through various books, both non-fiction and fiction. The horrors of daily life in the concentration camps were something that I had read about before, but coming back to it afresh, and finding some new first-hand accounts by survivors was quite emotive. I was also astonished at the extent to which the U.S. intelligence networks collaborated with ex-Nazis after the Second World War, offering protection in exchange for information about the Russians in particular. I was vaguely aware that it had happened, but the numbers of ex-Nazis who were given safe haven in the U.S. after the war came as a real eye-opener.
A theme that I am likely to weave into the Joe Johnson series is around the futility and counter-productive nature of sectarian and religious conflict and the wars that ensue from that. And then the search for truth, justice and forgiveness that has to be pursued to the maximum, even if it takes years or decades to do so. For example, I’m certain that will be the case in Syria, as it has been in other theatres of war. It is the responsibility of political leaders to counter such forces, not fuel them.
Q) The novel is split between a 1944 setting and the modern day. Is it difficult to write between two eras? What are the challenges faced?
A) I was keen to write a novel primarily set in the present day. So the challenge was to find a way of pulling in characters and events from almost seventy years earlier without them getting in the way of the plot and slowing the pace of what is intended to be a reasonably fast-paced modern thriller. I used various devices, including documents, Nazi party files, memoirs and diaries, as well as flashbacks. I found myself over-writing the memoirs/diaries in the early drafts, particularly the recollections of life in Wüstegiersdorf concentration camp by Joe Johnson’s mother and by the two Polish Jewish brothers, Daniel and Jacob Kudrow. So I ended up cutting those back significantly – in many ways I was sorry to do this, but I think it did improve the pacing. No doubt readers will give me a view on this!
Q) What are your favourite ww2 fiction novels?
A) Those I have most enjoyed are thrillers set in the real world, and against a backdrop of true or plausible events or scenarios. Some of those on my shelf include Robert Harris’s Enigma, Sebastian Faulks’s Charlotte Gray, Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle.
Q) Finally, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
A) I’m 52, married with two teenage children, and we live in St Albans, around 20 miles north of London. I’ve always had a love of writing, history, current affairs and research, and I spent several years as a business journalist with newspapers including The Scotsman, working mostly in London. I switched into corporate PR in 2002, and worked for three large energy companies, which was interesting. Then when I was made redundant, I decided to have a go at writing a novel, which was something I’d always wanted to try, but had never done. The Last Nazi is the product of that.
I’m originally from Grantham, in Lincolnshire. I studied history at Loughborough University. I love playing and watching cricket and listening to music of various types, and I like traveling. I once hitch-hiked across the Sahara from Morocco and Algeria down to Niger, back in the days when it was safer to do that kind of thing and I was more reckless.
*Huge thanks for taking part in a Q&A on my blog! I wish you every success with your novel.
Andrew is a former journalist who has always had a love of writing and a passion for reading good thrillers. Now he has finally put the two interests together. His first book, The Last Nazi, has now been published, and he has a second, The Old Bridge, in the advanced stages of editing. The themes behind these thrillers also pull together some of Andrew’s other interests, particularly history, world news, and travel. They explore the ways in which events and human behaviors deep into the past continue to impact on modern society, politics and business. The Last Nazi draws strongly on these themes. It is the first in a planned series of thrillers featuring the protagonist, Joe Johnson, an ex-CIA officer and former U.S. Nazi hunter with the Office of Special Investigations, part of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Johnson has a passion for justice and a drive to investigate unsolved war crimes in different parts of the world. Andrew studied history at Loughborough University and worked for many years as a business and financial journalist before becoming a corporate and financial communications adviser with several large energy companies. He originally came from Grantham, Lincolnshire, and lives with his family in St. Albans in Hertfordshire, U.K.
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