Noircon 2012: More Block, Kent Harrington, ratlines in crime fiction
"How are you going to spend eternity? I thought, `On a fucking panel.'"Later, Block was asked about the genesis of his early paperback book about a successful assassination plot against Fidel Castro (republished decades later by Hard Case Crime as Killing Castro). In 1961, Block said, a third-rate paperback publisher ("He aspired to be second-rate") commissioned a quickie biography of Elizabeth Taylor from Donald Westlake, figuring Taylor was not long for the world. Then he asked Block for a similar book about Castro, figuring to capitalize on Castro's inevitable and imminent ouster.
"I never met" the publisher, Block said, "and I've always been grateful for that. ... alav ha-shalom, he's been dead for years, Elizabeth Taylor hung on until recently, and Castro, God love him, is still alive."
The novel takes its title from ratlines, the escape routes set up for Nazis fleeing Europe at the end of World War II. Harrington described the book as a thriller about the importation of Nazis into the United States, the role allocated to the Sicilian Mafia in the international heroin trade in return for its cooperation in stamping out Communists and socialists, and the reverberations to this day of those decisions.
Stuart Neville’s next novel will be called Ratlines, and its story includes the Irish government’s embrace of Nazis after the war and its ripple effect in the present day. Asked if he thought more crime writers might take up the theme, Harrington, who called himself a moral if not a political crime novelist, said, “I hope so.”
© Peter Rozovsky 2012