Hunting The Hangman by Howard Linskey
TWO MEN. . . ONE MISSION. . . TO KILL THE MAN WITH THE IRON HEART
Bestselling author Howard Linskey’s fifteen year fascination with the assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the holocaust, has produced a meticulously researched, historically accurate thriller with a plot that echoes The Day of the Jackal and The Eagle has Landed.
2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on a man so evil even fellow SS officers referred to him as the ‘Blond Beast’. In Prague he was known as the Hangman. Hitler, who called him ‘The Man with the Iron Heart’, considered Heydrich to be his heir, and entrusted him with the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’ to the Jewish question: the systematic murder of eleven million people.
In 1942 two men were trained by the British SOE to parachute back into their native Czech territory to kill the man ruling their homeland. Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik risked everything for their country. Their attempt on Reinhard Heydrich’s life was one of the single most dramatic events of the Second World War, with horrific consequences for thousands of innocent people.
Hunting the Hangman is a tale of courage, resilience and betrayal with a devastating finale. Based on true events, the story reads like a classic World War Two thriller and is the subject of two big-budget Hollywood films that coincide with the anniversary of Operation Anthropoid.
I am a huge fan of the ww2 genre, whether it be fiction or non-fiction books. This novel was perfect for me as it was a mixture of the two. A fictionalised account of Operation Anthropoid the mission to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich! Being released just days before the 75th anniversary of the operation, it is the perfect gift for the WW2 fanatic in your life.
The novel has in-depth research and the historical accuracy is on point. However, where it really delivers is in its portrayal of the real life characters Jan Kubis, Josef Gabcik and Reinhard Heydrich. They are written with such insight into their personalities and thought process. It makes for terrifying reading to be listening in, on Heydrich’s inner most thoughts.
Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik are the two agents, recruited by Emil Strankmuller and Frantisek Moravec, to parachute back in to occupied Czechoslovakia. The mission is one of secrecy, surveillance, strategic planning and all while under the threat of death upon discover. The novel really does depict the bravery of the WW2 SOE agents and the determination to bring down a violent and brutal regime. There is also a real break down of Kubis and Gabcik personalities. What drove them and what they were like as men.
Reinhard Heydrich is a well-known SS Obergruppenfuhrer from WW2 history. Most readers can easily picture his face and his ‘aryan’ look. Within this book, we get to really know him as a man, father, German and a Nazi. Heydrich was rumoured to be Hitler’s Heir to power, part of the ‘thousand year Reich’ Hitler promised his followers. Heydrich was also a huge figurehead in the planning for the Final Solution which in turn led to the deaths of 11 million people. Known as the ‘blonde beast’ and the ‘Hangman’ in Prague. Heydrich was a man whose reputation superseded him. With rank, power and privilege, Heydrich was a man who could make your life a living hell, what stood between you and the gates of Dachau.
We also see Heydrich the father, how he doted on his favourite child daughter Silke. His ambition to raise his family up within German society, whilst suffering inner fears he may have some non-German ancestry. Heydrich was not a conflicted man with his responsibilities, he took great pleasure in organised murder. Referring to sparing one Jewish child, as assuming Germany of a further future enemy! A friendless, career obsessed, suspicious man with an accusatory mind, is one to be avoided at all costs. But imagine Heydrich was your boss? Your neighbour? A distant family member? With Himmler concerned regarding the effects of mass killings on the SS men themselves. Heydrich must come up with a plan. But how do you kill millions of people quietly, discreetly and rapidly? In constant competition with Josef Goebbels, a growing hatred for Martin Bormann, Heydrich is under pressure to please his beloved Fuhrer.
Gabcik is a Slovak native, at just 29 years old he has barely lived. Gabcik is portrayed as patriotic, loyal, passionate and easily angered. He has medals for gallantry. Gabcik is a fiercely determined young man. Kubis is just 28 years old, he has a youthful face. He struggles with the shame of not fighting and although not originally picked for the mission, he fully embraces it. Kubis also has a secret love still in Prague which adds to his determination to strike back at the Nazi’s. They begin to plan their attack. How do you kill a Nazi, when you know there will be repercussions? Where is Heydrich most vulnerable? How will they undertake this mission with no help from resistance? The intelligence suggests that Heydrich does have a weakness, one that can be exploited. Heydrich has relaxed security and a gluttonous appetite for mistresses.
When Heydrich is asked to give a speech, at Hradcany Castle his official residency (commandeered from a Jewish sugar trader) to the cream of the SS to boost morale. We learn of his military background, even being awarded a fighter pilot badge and the Iron Cross. We also learn that the choice for those living in occupied land is one of, co-operation and survival or resistance and death! A time when suspicion of being a double agent can mean you simply disappear from existence!
The plotting of Kubis and Gabcik continues and they endeavour to outsmart the Nazi’s at every turn. The novel portrays the attack and aftermath in excellent detail and the author really has done his homework. There is so much detail, I simply can’t cover it all in my review. The novel is atmospheric, evocative and thought provoking. You really get a sense of the bravery of the SOE agents and what the war cost them, in term of loss of life and loss of living! As a reader you also get to see the inner working within the Nazi party and its members. How it is runs on a basis of ‘one up manship’, brutality, violence and fear. Highly recommended 5*
I have followed Howard’s crime series for quite some time. They are guaranteed good reads and I love to escape to Durham within the novels. When I saw via a Facebook post, he was writing a novel in the WW2 genre I was instantly intrigued. The WW2 era is one of my favourites in terms of novels, non-fiction reads and movies. I just find the whole era fascinating! I was lucky enough to read an arc of Hunting The Hangman and it is absolutely brilliant! There is so much detail and historical fact, which meant I instantly had so many questions about the authors research process. So here is my Q&A with Howard Linskey.
Q) Let me start by saying that the cover is amazing! What was your response when you saw the finished cover design?
A) I absolutely love the cover. No Exit always do great covers and we talked about how it should look. It was important that readers knew what they were buying, even before picking it up. We figured this was a book for people who might read WW2 non-fiction and grew up with books like ‘The Day of The Jackal’ and ‘The Eagle Has Landed’, just like I did, so we deliberately went for that retro look. I think it’s stunning personally and I am so glad you like it.
Q) You are already an established writer in the crime fiction drama. What was the inspiration behind writing Hunting The Hangman?
A) It started a long while ago, way back in 2000, when I saw a documentary on TV about the assassination attempt on Reinhard Heydrich. I’m not sure I had even heard of the man back then but I kept wondering why this episode wasn’t better known? I think Operation Anthropoid is one of the most dramatic and emotionally engaging stories of the Second World War. I was gripped by the tale of just two men going after Heydrich in occupied territory then the shocking aftermath of the incident.
Q) Is there a possibility you may write a WW2 genre crime fiction novel?
A) I do like the idea of WW2 as a backdrop to a crime story. People have tried it of course and it does work. Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther springs to mind and more recently Rob Ryan had Dr Watson from the Sherlock Holmes stories rejoin the army as a doctor and investigating murder at the front, which was inspired. Admittedly that was World War One but I thought it was a great concept. I do have another WW2 story featuring a fictional S.O.E agent, which came about because of the research I did on the Special Operations Executive’s part in the Heydrich mission. If people like ‘Hunting the Hangman’ then maybe it will spur me on to complete this.
Q) Hunting The Hangman is incredibly well researched and has fantastic historical accuracy. What is your research process? Did you come across anything that shocked/surprised you?
A) After I saw the documentary on Heydrich, I bought numerous books, including Callum Macdonald’s brilliant account of the assassination attempt, the memoir of one of Heydrich’s closest Lieutenants, Walter Schellenberg, and a dozen other books; about Prague under Nazi occupation, the Third Reich and the S.O.E. I also researched endless articles on the web and got into all sorts of mini-topics, like how a Halifax plane had to be adapted from a bomber into an aircraft capable of dropping parachutists. I flew to Prague to see all the major locations in the story and even managed to find some places that only feature briefly, such as the exiled Czech President Eduard Benes’ house in Aston Abbotts, Buckinghamshire. To be honest I immersed myself in this story.
I think the most surprising thing that came out of the research was Heydrich’s own hang-ups about race and his fear he might have Jewish blood himself, which is a dreadful irony, considering he wanted to murder eleven million people on that exact same basis. He even shot a mirror when very drunk because he thought its reflection made him look Jewish. As for what shocked me, well pretty much everything he and the Nazi hierarchy wanted to do was almost beyond belief and I still find their efforts to enact multiple murder on so many human beings incredibly shocking.
Q) Reinhard Heydrich is a well-known and famous SS face of Nazi Germanys history, The man behind the ‘final solution’. One thing I liked in your novel, is the way we the reader, see the many faces of Heydrich as a man, father, German and Nazi. How much time went into researching Heydrich? Was it difficult to write his thoughts and actions?
A) As you can imagine, I read a lot about Heydrich and his conduct. Even his fellow Nazis called him the Blond Beast so that should give you a clue as to his true nature. It was difficult to write those chapters because I had to try and get inside his head, to view the world like he did, and his world view was extremely disturbing. I also wanted to show how these people could appear normal, even loving, in the right context, with their families for example. It’s important to remember that so we can spot these evil men in the future. They didn’t wear horns or rant and froth at the mouth all of the time and that’s what makes their vile thoughts and deeds even more shocking. Each chapter heading has a real quote from a senior Nazi; a device I used to show I was in no way exaggerating their twisted views.
Q) The novel also covers the bravery of double agents and SOE agents. I have a few favourite WW2 heroes from history such as Violette Szabo, lieutenant Peter Luard, Alan Turing and Odette hallowes. Who are your WW2 favourite heroes?
A) I read a lot about the S.O.E agents and they were incredibly courageous. Many of them didn’t make it out again as we know. In particular I’d recommend reading about another S.O.E heroin, Nancy Wake, who showed incredible heroism working with the Maquisard. There are so many real people I admire from the Second World War, so it is hard to single them out but I am in awe of Major Dick Winters from the 101st airborne division, made famous by Stephen Ambrose in ‘Band of Brothers’ and played brilliantly played by Damian Lewis in the TV adaptation. He showed tremendous leadership and courage as well as humility.
Q) What are your favourite/recommended reads in the WW2 fiction and non-fiction genre?
A) In non fiction I love all of Ben Macintyre’s books, especially ‘Agent Zig Zag’ and ‘Rogue Soldiers’ and always recommend Anthony Beevor’s incredible books, ‘Stalingrad’ and ‘Berlin – The Downfall’. ‘First Light’ by Geoffrey Wellum is one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve finished it. It’s his account of flying Spitfires in ‘The Battle of Britain’ at just eighteen years of age, which is hard to imagine.
In fiction, I’d single out Jack Higgins for ‘The Eagle Has Landed’, Rob Ryan again for his S.O.E books, especially ‘Early One Morning’ and James Clavell’s ‘King Rat’, which depicts the struggle for survival in a Japanese P.O.W camp in Singapore.
*Huge thanks to the author for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you success with Hunting The Hangman and your future writing. 🙂
HL: Thanks so much for having me on the site and asking such interesting questions. It’s been fun!
Huge thanks to the fabulous people at No Exit Press, for my arc copy of Hunting The Hangman, in return for an honest review. 🙂