|Publisher||Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd|
|Date Published||24 April 2014|
Fintan Dunne is part of a wartime OSS operation in Slovakia that never had any chance of success. During his escape from the country he comes across survivors from Auschwitz, an encounter that is to return to haunt him years later.
Unusually in the genre of historical fiction, Quinn has developed a character who is interesting in himself. There is plenty of plot but he is quite prepared to allow it to slow down on occasions, confident that we will never be bored by Dunne’s reflections on his various situations.
Dunne is an Irish-American ex-policeman, ex-private detective who has fought in two world wars and whose character has to a large extent been conditioned by that experience. He would almost certainly agree with the words of Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger: “There aren't any good, brave causes left." His educational background – a combination of orphanage and reform school run by the Catholic Church – has left him with very few illusions. Although he does manage to avoid complete cynicism, he is not easily persuaded to join any cause, however good it seems. He brings something of this same attitude to his life in the army and doesn’t believe that the orders he receives will necessarily make sense. However, when he sees obvious examples of injustice – the starving Jews on the train – he feels compelled to do what he can to help.
The plot, which begins with an OSS mission into Slovakia towards the end of World War II – a mission in which Dunne takes part even though he has little confidence in its success – is inventive and incident-filled as Dunne and his companion, Van Hull, attempt to find their way back from behind enemy lines.
They encounter a box-car which turns out to contain Jews who had survived Auschwitz, now closed down and largely destroyed by the SS. Their leader, Dr Niskolczi, tells them of his time in the camp ‘hospital’ serving under Dr Karsten Heinz, who was conducting experiments on the inmates. This meeting gives a new direction to the plot as, years later, Dunne becomes involved in a Simon Wiesenthal-type search for Heinz. Thus, in the first part of the book we are on the side of the escapees and in the second part with those pursuing an escapee – in this case a Nazi war criminal. Both are exciting and would normally be sufficient in themselves to constitute a historical thriller.
However, there is more to this book than that. In The Man Who Never Was we are concerned with an attempt to solve, via a novel, the real life mystery of a man who suddenly and inexplicably disappears. It is suggested that there were political reasons for the disappearance of a well-known judge. In Dry Bones politics plays a much larger part, particularly in the account of why the OSS was disbanded, to be replaced by the CIA and why its founder, General Donovan, found no place in the new organisation. In addition, there are examples of the usual depressing politics employed for advancement within any large organisation, which, when viewed from the standpoint of the cynical realist, Dunne, add a new dimension to what is a very good novel.
Reviewed 28 June 2014 by Arnold Taylor