My thanks to the team at Bookollective for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Niall Edworthy’s first novel. I’m very partial to history in my fiction so I’m intrigued to see what Naill has to tell me this evening.
Staying in with Niall Edworthy
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Niall. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal. After 25 years of writing and ghosting 40 non-fiction books, this is my first novel.
It must be very satisfying to publish under your own name Niall! How would you sum up Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal?
I was delighted to see it described in a review as ‘Nazi Germany meets the 39 Steps meets PG Wodehouse.’ Delighted because it means I have succeeded in my hope of creating an adventure story told with humour set in a dark period of history.
Sounds fascinating. So what can we expect from an evening in with Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal?
A wide-eyed innocent tangling with Nazis and their sinister plans inspired by the Occult and the Nordic myths, an impossible task, a manhunt, a picture of pre-war Germany and France, some burgeoning love, a Walther PPK, a boy genius with werewolf syndrome, a spectacular Grail castle, a less well known SS castle, a lot of adrenaline, a vulnerable but entertaining narrator
Crikey! That’s some description. How are readers receiving Otto’s adventures?
You must be delighted with those responses Niall. Tell us a bit more about the settings and your characters.
Some of my settings include:
Berlin: Cultural centre of Europe after the Great War, a hub of creative and intellectual energy, a den of decadence, Berlin was quickly cleared and sanitized by the Nazis of all ‘un-German’ influences.
8, Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse – the most dreaded address in Germany, Himmler’s SS & Gestapo HQ, complete with 40 underground torture cells.
Michelstadt Otto’s home town, its picture postcard centre is little changed from Medieval times with its timber framed, gabled buildings, flower boxes, swinging shop signs and friendly inns.
Wewelsburg Castle Himmler’s pseudo-Arthurian SS castle. Rebuilt by slave labour, Wewelsburg ended the war a grotesque folly to his unhinged world view.
Montsegur Village in foothills of Pyrenees famed for its steepling hilltop castle, site of last stronghold and massacre of Cathar ‘heretics’. Legend goes that three knights smuggled out the Holy Grail on the eve of the surrender. Much of the action takes place here
Dachau Himmler’s brainchild, opened in 1933, Dachau was Germany’s first concentration camp and prototype, housing at first mainly political enemies and social undesirables.
It sounds as if readers of Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal can travel vicariously in these uncertain times. How about the characters?
Let me describe a little bit about the main characters Linda:
Otto Eckhart – Our wide-eyed narrator, aimless unsung Medievalist sleepwalking into a Nazi nightmare. Has he got it in him to outwit the SS and one of the most sinister men history will produce? Can he come of age and triumph in love as well as life?
Heinrich Himmler – Fertilizer salesman, occultist, fantasist, armchair genocidal maniac, doting father, brilliant bureaucrat, unfaithful husband, rabbit lover, head of the SS, architect of Holocaust.
Ingrid Behringer – Bright, resourceful, intrepid secretary in SS HQ Berlin, at the dark heart of the young regime, she has no love for Nazis but will she for Otto? Keen amateur photographer, dauntless motorist. Smells of lavender.
Eva Eckhart – Otto’s Mum, loving, overbearing, tireless pillar of Michelstadt community, scared of no one and nothing but the Gestapo, Dachau, her husband’s principles and her son’s innocence and idleness.
Friedrich Eckhart – Otto’s Dad, the mouse that roars in Nazi ears. Quiet strong schoolteacher, Great War hero, scourge of the Nazis. Will his strong principles put his family in jeopardy?
Poilu – Otto’s fearless and faithful sidekick, cleverest boy in Languedoc, fulcrum of Montsegur village life, beekeeper, stand-in priest, washer of the elderly. Poilu, French for hairy, a nickname owing to his werewolf syndrome.
Inspector Muller – Local Gestapo chief, scourge of Michelstadt, nemesis of Otto’s father, but can he thwart Otto’s plan?
Weisthor – The mad mystic, closely inspired by Karl Maria Wiligut, ‘Himmler’s Rasputin’. Off-the-wall occultist, creator of SS death-head ring and interior designer of Wewelsburg Castle – Himmler’s SS Camelot. Drunkard and certified madman.
Karl Wolff – Himmler’s suave Chief of Staff. Saw out war as governor of North Italy. Escaped Nuremburg trials but justice caught up with him. Features as self in story.
Hans Loritz – 6th Commandant of Dachau. Corrupt SS officer & concentration camp careerist. Committed suicide awaiting trial by Soviets in 1946. Features as self.
Berthold and Erma Voight – Jovial & drunk husband & wife landlord team of the ancient The Three Hares Inn, Michelstadt, hub of local gossip. Anti-Nazis and trustworthy friend to Otto.
Raymond & Beatrice Trencavels – Poilu’s parents & amiable owners of Montsegur guesthouse, Otto’s doting French ‘parents.’ Key players in his ploy to foil Himmler.
Fr Pietro – Chain-smoking, defrocked Italian priest of lapsed faith, dissolute habit and gloomy outlook, former curator of Vatican relics, eager barfly and keeper of a great secret.
They sound such vivid people Niall. I imagine there will quite a journey for many of them. Do you have any excerpts to share with us?
I do indeed Linda. Here are some short excerpts:
You don’t forget that day, the one that changes your life forever, when nothing again will be even remotely the same as the life you knew previously, when you end up wholly altered by the experiences that flow from it. Mine was the sixth of May, 1937 and oh God, what a naïve dolt I was.
He rose to his feet and leant into me, the brim of his hat touching my forehead. I can still smell the cheap smoke and the beer on his breath, see the old meat stuck in his incisors and the sheaves of bristle hanging from his great nostrils. I cannot say whether it was fear or fury, but I stood where I was, not so much as a blink on my face, my only movement that of my racing heart. I was aware of the din in the bar falling to a murmur and then to a hush.
She was wearing a purple beret, with a purple silk scarf tucked into a black silver-buttoned tunic, cigarette curling smoke from her hand, now hanging over the door. A camera hung around her neck. She gave me a shy smile and shook a little wave. I returned both gestures, then did that awkward thing with my face, my eyes going left and right and my lips puckering with compressed air – being unaccustomed to beautiful women in luxury touring cars trying to get my attention.
It is one of the curiosities of uniforms and costumes that merely by altering the outward appearance, a slight change in the inward character of the wearer is achieved. To look at that strange figure in the mirror, I am obliged to confess again, was both thrilling and unsettling. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the character of an entire nation might be changed simply by pulling on a uniform. Was it really that easy to become someone else, to become a different country?
(Ingrid character speaking) “They take me for cocktails and dinner and tell me how to strip and reassemble a Mauser, how I might kill an attack dog were I to find myself unarmed and on the run – one places one’s fist down in its throat I am advised – how the reoccupation of the Rhineland is just the first step, yawn, yawn – then they are astounded and affronted that I am insufficiently aroused to go to bed with them.”
I approached the desk, peeling off my gloves, steel heels cracking the silence, heartbeats pummelling my ribcage. He looked up, eyebrows nudging a fraction higher, pen still floating above the document.
A beating, a bullet in the back of the head and a midnight bath in the Landwehr, that’s how it works now… Right, here we go, deep breaths, let’s hope the traffic’s light. And the bennies start kicking in – fast. They closed in on me, looking for a struggle, but I leapt into the rear like an eager gundog. They followed me in, and the door slammed.
I think they give an excellent flavour of the book. So, what else have you brought along and why?
I’ve brought some pictures of Montsegur castle and village in foothills of Pyrenees – where much of the story’s action takes place
It looks a fascinating place. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal Nial. I wish you every success with the book.
Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal
Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal is a work of historical fiction, inspired by the true story of SS Ahnenerbe occultist Otto Rahns’s search for the Holy Grail as a trophy to prove Ayran supremacy for Nazi Germany. In this reliving of the story, a naïve young historian, Otto Eckhart, is personally dispatched by SS leader Heinrich Himmler to seek a holy chalice, only to discover the real life Chalice of Tomar. Set over six months in 1937, with the action taking place in Berlin, the Odenwald, Wewelsburg Castle and Languedoc, Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal is an absorbing quest, love and coming of age story.
About Niall Edworthy
Niall Edworthy, a former reporter with international wire agencies AFP and Reuters, has written over 40 books, many of them ghosted. Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal is his exciting fiction debut. His work has covered a broad range of genres and subjects and include a highly acclaimed account of a British tank regiment at war in Iraq, the comic adventures of an Essex roadworker on the world darts scene, the autobiography of a rugby World Cup winner, and the harrowing story of a young Londoner unjustly jailed in Russia.
You can follow Niall on Twitter @EdworthyNiall and there’s more with these other bloggers: