DEATH ORDERS by Jan Needle

I’ve never been much of a fan of conspiracy theories, but, to coin a phrase, I know a man who is. But 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. And now, thanks to the wonders of ebookery, I’ve been able to revisit possibly my favourite wartime thriller.

The conspiracy theory in question 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 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.’

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.

Don't believe too easily.  A toy? A fish? The human soul? 
I still don’t believe in conspiracy theories, and I think that I do right – it doesn’t take one long to end up foaming at the lips. But there are many things that, after years and years of rigorous investigation, refuse to reveal their simple truth.

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 last week.


Nick Green said…
Fascinating post (and link). I myself am slowly being shunted towards the view that the occasional 9/11 or 7/7 (or 5/11!) may be an acceptable price to pay for wider freedoms and a right to privacy. I don't want to hold this view but somehow the alternative looks even more bleak.

Lee said…
Nick, I've been sorely tempted to tweet precisely the same view recently. And if you consider the amount that's spent on the US surveillance programs, and whether far more lives would be saved by putting a good portion of that money towards healthcare, for example - well, I'm reluctant to play the numbers game, but you see where I'm going with this. There are many different forms of security, and perhaps we can't have them all - or at least not all in equal measure.
glitter noir said…
Well done, Jan. And this is how books should be sold. I'm hooked and can't wait to read it.
julia jones said…
Fascinating (and sounds readable as well - which can't always be claimed for conspiracy theory books) Thanks Jan
Dennis Hamley said…
This is weird. I was the very first to comment, I published my comment and saw it was OK with my own eyes. And now it's gone. Anyway, I'm old enough to remember Hess coming over here. I saw a newspaper picture of a cadaverous figure being led away from (my memory may be hazy here), a wrecked German aircraft smoking in the background and my father saying, 'What's that bugger doing here?' I never doubted the official story of Hess. I just thought it was very strange and the man was obviously mad. now I'll think again. Ten years ago I wrote a history of WW2 for kids published by Franklin Watts. I looked in it to see if I'd mentioned Hess. No, but the publishers (nothing to do with me)had put in a photograph of Goering sitting next to Hess at the Nuremburg trials. But perhaps it wasn't Goering either. The thick plottens. Can't wait for the book. I'll repay the buying compliment as soon as.
Jan Needle said…
dennis, goering said to hess, the first time they met in the dock at nuremberg - now then, when are you going to tell them your big secret. as he so often was, the fat man (Der Dicke) was laughing fit to bust. he could see humour in most things, goering. it probably amused him to bite into his cyanide capsule at the end. you can't catch me!
Kathleen Jones said…
Jan - sounds fascinating - definitely one for me. Hope you're going to flag it up on AE when it's available?
Dennis Hamley said…
Jan, does 'you can't catch me' refer to you or Goering? Or both?. It never occurred to me that it was the first time they had met. How can that be? Or am I taking this over-literally?
Jan Needle said…
yes, i fear you are, dennis, if i get you right. you can't catch me was my take on goering's enjoyment of having concealed a cyanide capsule in his mouth throughout his trial, until he decided to pull his last stunt (by biting it!) he was playing with the british/american idea of post-war 'justice,' i imagine. the useful criminals were taken to america to boost their own high-tech war machines for the future, it would seem, and he knew damn well he didn't qualify.

but the point of his remark was that he did know rudolf hess, very well indeed. almost up to the declaration of war, goering had a messerschmitt fuelled and ready to make a peace-offer dash to london, and if the man in the dock was a ringer, der dicke would have known it for sure. and been in on the joke.

it's a wondrous story.
Dennis Hamley said…
By heck it must be. Can't wait to read it.

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