The wartime flight and subsequent incarceration of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, remains one of the greatest mysteries of the Second World War. There seems little doubt that Hess flew out of Germany in a ME110, and that someone crash-landed a few miles outside Glasgow several hours later. But the airman pulled out of the wrecked fighter claimed his name was Alfred Horn, and Frank Foley, long recognised as one of Britain’s greatest secret agents, said after interviewing the flyer in the Tower of London ‘that man is not Rudolf Hess.’
The government, however, insisted that it was. The man was moved from the Tower to a prison where he attempted suicide, and later to a mental hospital. Tried at Nuremberg, where Goering once taunted him ‘are you going to tell us all your big secret today?’ he was sentenced to life imprisonment and died at Spandau prison at the age of ninety-three.
To say the circumstances were mysterious is an understatement. After ordering his lunch one day, and making a list of some essentials that he needed, this man who could not even raise his arms above his head was said by his British captors to have hanged himself in a summer house in the prison grounds. Within a few hours the summer house had been destroyed, and only days after that Spandau itself was razed to the ground. Hess had been its only prisoner for years. Interred on land at first, his body was exhumed when DNA testing became a possibility, and buried at sea.
Death Order is largely based on archives (some still officially secret) collected by historians and secret service buffs in America, Britain, Germany, and Central Europe. Much of the evidence indicates that whoever died in Spandau, it was unlikely to have been Hess. And two years ago, Scotland Yard released a secret report under Freedom of Information legislation which appears to confirm that government agents may have murdered him. So far, the government has refused to comment.
Jan Needle writes many different sorts of thriller, many of them noted for an unflinchingly examination of viciousness and cruelty, from World War II through murder, drugs and gang crime. Even his books for children and young adults have attracted a measure of critical disapproval, while his first novel about the Royal Navy in Nelson’s time, A Fine Boy for Killing, was described by one critic as ‘Jack Aubrey with the gloves and rose-tinted spectacles torn off.’ Death Order was reckoned to have given the secret services an ‘apoplectic fit,’ while his thriller about a massive prison breakout was described as ‘a car crash on speed.’