I have always been a fascinated observer of how people in power lie and cheat, and how rationality bleeds away from the most dangerous and difficult human problems. We all know that war has no winners, we all know that wars will never end. Thanks to the wonders of ebookery, I’ve been able to revisit my thriller set in wartime and beyond. It’s called Death Orders.
The mystery at the heart of it has been around for a long, long time, and it will not go away. It is about an event so bizarre that the truth will never, obviously, be known. That’s the beauty of the history animal. You don’t have study philosophy very long to hit the sixty four thousand dollar question. What is truth?
Consider this. My book, Death Orders, which will hit the cyber world in the next couple of weeks via Endeavour Press, is about the supposed death of a man who supposedly flew to England in a Messerschmitt in 1941, was possibly not the man he was claimed to be, possibly died in the basement of the Carlton Club at the hands of the secret services, and possibly ended up – the last survivor of all the imprisoned war criminals – incarcerated in Spandau Jail, Berlin.
His name – someone’s name – was Rudolf Hess, and from Spandau his body was sped to hospital after he had hanged himself at the age of 91, from a window frame in a garden hut which was much too low to do the job, shortly after ordering his lunch and a fresh supply of toilet paper. Within hours the wooden hut was gone, burnt to the ground by the British who were in charge of the jail that day. Within weeks, the prison itself had been demolished.
After he had been buried, and the scientific possibilities of DNA came marching ever closer, Prisoner Number Seven was exhumed, cremated, and scattered at sea. In the jail he had refused for more than twenty years to meet his beloved wife and son, and had claimed many times – not least when the fighter plane had crashed in Scotland – that he was not Rudolf Hess. No DNA was ever taken, and key papers about the affair remain top secret, long after the normal term.
All that is not in doubt about this story is that a man flew to England from Germany via Denmark and a man is definitely dead. Some think he came to broker peace. Some think Hitler put him up to it. Some think Winston Churchill was in it up to the elbows, some think the Royal Family were implicated, some are certain Joseph Stalin had a hand.
Uncle Joe, in fact, said this: ‘There are lots of things that happen, even here in Russia, which our secret service does not necessarily tell me about.’
And Joe, except in very peculiar ways, was not noted for his sense of humour.
Churchill said this: ‘There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.’
I don’t believe much in conspiracy theories, but when I took my first bite at this cherry, under the title of The Butcher’s Bill, HarperCollins offered twenty thousand pounds to anyone who could prove its thesis was untrue. Several conspiracy nuts tried very hard, but the cash was safe, although not having Mr Murdoch behind me now I sure as hell won’t take that risk again. But the book is so full of fascinating, wild, sexy, awful happenings, that to rewrite it a bit, and be asked by Endeavour if they could republish it, has been a joy and a delight.
I don’t know exactly which of its elements are facts or lies or lunacies – no one does. But I do know that some of the most screamingly improbable things in it are verifiably completely accurate. If you love history as much as I do, that is more than enough, believe me.
Hats off to Endeavour for letting me fly this kite once more. Let’s hope it has more success than the man in that Me110. Rudolf Hess? Alfred Horn? Or pick a name out of the bran tub.
And twenty grand aside, the bet remains. Prove to me it didn’t happen like I tell it and I’ll be your friend for life.
Probably even buy you a pint…
You can follow them on Facebook and on Twitter. No pub date yet, but very soon.
And if anyone still thinks governments play straight with us, or ever have, or ever will, try Simon Jenkins in the Guardian.