Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal by Niall Edworthy

…..Jesus was an Aryan, and not just some dirty Arab as the traditional teaching has it.”

The Nazis tried to change most of history to suit their actions and of course to suit their warped ideology of supremacy.  To find a novel in which there is black humour about the actions of Herr Heine Himmler seems difficult but here the author has done an excellent job of fictionalising a true story to help us engage with the main character, hapless Otto Eckhart.

It is 1937 and young historian Otto is back home after six years of idleness. His mother is pleased but his father despairs at his son’s ignorance of the way Germany has now changed and is challenging his world as a local respected teacher. When Otto gets a letter inviting him to Berlin and is invited to look for the Holy Grail relic so that fanatical Himmler and his mystic madness can prove Germany’s master race was in fact the original race of the world.

There are some great descriptions of rural Germany set against the stark, swastika draped Berlin where the Gestapo are based with all their terror and insanity. There is also an interesting trip to France uncovering the history of the Cathar’s and the castle and mountains that surround Otto’s second home where he had undertaken his medieval research. No one had taken any notice of Otto’s thesis until Himmler shows him how his mythical words are to become a reality. I liked the way Otto’s wonder and innocence are slowly unravelled and the scenes with his family are very emotional to emphasise how a regime can plan to destroy those we love. Meeting Ingrid, a secretary with lots of ideas and insider knowledge all lead to a plan that reaches an exciting climax at the end of the story.

As a personal read I was shocked when I sometimes laughed out loud, then caught my breath when it was obvious the sinister work of the Gestapo was beyond Otto’s comprehension and then to almost cry with fear when the true meaning of Hitler’s plans become real. I probably wouldn’t have picked this book wondering what else could be brought into the mix about the Nazi regime but was I was very interested to read that the fictional story is based on the real character of Otto Rahn, who was also a young Medievalist recruited by the SS to help further their crazy plans. The sadness was that the fiction did not reflect the facts but this is a novel not a historical book.

I think book groups may be wary about taking up this novel but should put aside lots of other titles that abound currently on certain aspects of the Nazi regime. If they look to explore the background of fanatical behaviour of the SS, its leaders whose names we know too well but are set against a hero trying to work out what’s happening in his own country.The author is also very interesting having written many books, some ghosted for other people and many covering factual subjects as wide ranging as the British tank regiment in the war in Iraq to a rugby World Cup winner.  This is his fiction debut and an exciting and innovative read it is.

Otto Rahn

Otto Rahn, on whom this title was based.

Review by Philipa Coughlan
Personal Read 4/5
Group Read 3/5

Published by Universe an imprint of the Unicorn Group LLP
ISBN    978-1-9107-8769-4