At this stage, The Hunted is simply a project idea. But quite possibly it will materialise into a novel when everything else I’m currently working on is finally put to bed.
I discovered this photo in my mother’s bureau while house clearing shortly after she died in ’96.
The inscription on the back, in her writing reads: SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Shultz VC — only German to win a British military decoration — for leading relief party of Germans to help British force ambushed by cannibals. East Africa, 1942.’
No one at the Foreign Office nor the German Consulate claims knowledge of any German Officer decorated by the British.
Fascinating… in the absence of an explanation, the imagination takes over.
When a British intelligence officer’s body turns up in Belfast’s River Lagan in August 1977, Jonny Farrell, an MI5 double agent operating deep under cover in South Armagh, receives a call from George Dibble, his handler.
The single clue is in a silver cigarette case on the dead man’s body — a faded black and white photograph of an SS Officer, standing in the company of a well-known Nazi propagandist, Dr Kreisleiter Gruneberg — the Political Leader — and three smiling women.
On the back, the hand-written inscription reads: ‘SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Shultz VC — only German to win a British military decoration — for leading relief party of Germans to help British force ambushed by cannibals. East Africa, 1942.’
Farrell has no intention of breaking cover and risk betraying the trust within senior echelons of the IRA he has worked so hard to develop, until Dibble tells him the inscription had been written by his late mother, who — unknown to him — had worked for the Intelligence Service during the war.
The hunt draws Farrell into a web of intrigue, wartime collusion between the Reich and both the British and the Irish governments, and contemporary power brokers who will stop at nothing to ensure that the story — as bizarre as any during the global conflict, and one that would cause unparalleled levels of moral outrage — never comes out.
When Farrell can find no trace of Schultz, he turns to the one person who can help him solve the puzzle.
Because in the sepia Velox photo, she is standing next to Shultz.
It’s May 1943 and the Val d’Esprit, a freighter registered in Sierra Leone, is anchored off the coast of Somalia.
On board in cramped and filthy conditions is a human cargo: 1800 young Jewish men, hand-picked for their physical prowess, spared from the gas chambers to participate in the ultimate gladiatorial contest.
In 1940, German elite forces are sent to a remote jungle region of western Somalia, following a trail which Hitler’s head of extermination, Dr Josef Mengele, believes will lead to a gold mine containing sufficient wealth to win the war for the Reich.
The stormtroopers, led by the highly-decorated commander of Hitler’s personal bodyguard, SS Obersturmbannfuhrer Hans Shultz find the mine, but before they can return to their U-boat, they are overpowered by tribal warriors possessing almost super-human strength and guile sufficient to out-manoeuvre Hitler’s finest.
The secret, as Shultz and his men are to find out, is in their diet: human flesh.
But before Shultz and his men are added to the menu, the SS Obersturmbannfuhrer manages to convince the tribal leader — Oxford educated Abdul All-Hands Zondekki — that their acquaintanceship could provide more than a one-off snack.
In return for sparing the lives of his men and granting them unlimited access to the mine, Shultz agrees to provide a bi-annual shipment of fit young Jewish men to be released into the jungle where they will fulfil the tribe’s other passion — hunting.
It is not an arrangement that Shultz is particularly comfortable with; like many career soldiers, he sees the Reich’s genocide as an abhorrent crime against humanity that he is powerless to stand against. But when presented with the fate of being served up on a bed of couscous to the tribal elders, the opportunity to give some of the oppressed the gift of better odds than a train journey to the death camps makes certain sense.
But it’s not just the Nazis who are on the trail of gold.
When Shultz and a party of miners and geologists go ashore to commence drilling and arrange for the disembarkation of his cargo, he learns that a British battalion have been apprehended and face a similar fate to that of his own men on his previous visit.
Shultz’ intervention leads to collusion between the Nazis, the cannibals and the British, the latter spared only as they agree to contribute their own particular flavour of meat to the feast: athletic young Irishmen who had travelled to Britain to volunteer to fight for a King and Empire that was not theirs; to risk death for a country that would protect them… not kill them.
Shultz is secretly decorated by KingGeorge Vl for the part he plays in securing the release of the British battalion, and the arrangement remains a secret until the photograph mysteriously turns up on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s desk some 70 years later.
In the envelope, along with the faded photograph, is a letter outlining what will happen if a public acknowledgement and a formal apology is not forthcoming.
And… repayment of the gold at its current value, plus indexation.
A sum sufficient to bankrupt the ailing British economy.