Set in Nazi Berlin, THE TORQUED MAN focuses on a German spy handler tortured by pangs of conscience and by his own sexuality, and on the charismatic IRA fighter he springs from prison in Franco’s Spain to enlist as an anti-British saboteur.
THE TORQUED MAN
by Peter Mann
HarperCollins, Winter 2022
(chez Writers House – voir catalogue)
Berlin—September, 1945. Two manuscripts are found in the rubble, each one narrating conflicting versions of the life of an Irish spy during the war in this slow-burn historical thriller with a dark comic edge with echoes of Thomas Mann and Flann O’Brien. One manuscript is the journal of German spy handler Adrian de Groot, written from a cellar during the Berlin air raids of 1943, following the death of his agent, friend, and former lover Frank Pike. In de Groot’s narrative, Pike is a charismatic Irish socialist and IRA fighter recruited by German intelligence to assist with the planned Irish-German invasion of Britain, but who never gets the chance to consummate his deal with the devil and spends his final years languishing in Berlin. While the journal chronicles de Groot’s complicated relationship with Pike and his attempts to keep him in his thrall, it also reveals de Groot’s own psychological struggle—as a bookish homosexual, erstwhile literary translator, and anti-Nazi conservative— to accommodate himself to the murderous regime he works for.
Meanwhile, the other MS—Finn McCool in the Bowels of Teutonia: Concerning his Murderous Exploits in Berlin—gives a very different account of the Irishman’s doings in the Reich. Assuming the alter ego of the Celtic hero Finn McCool, Pike appears here as a double agent gone rogue. His mission: an assassination campaign of highranking Nazi doctors, culminating in the killing of Dr. Theodor Morell, the personal physician of Adolf Hitler. The two manuscripts spiral around each other, leaving only the reader to know the full truth of Pike and de Groot’s relationship, their ultimate loyalties, and their efforts to resist the fascist reality in which they are caught.
THE TORQUED MAN is inspired by the historical figure Frank Ryan, a left-wing Irish Republican who was recruited in 1940 by German foreign intelligence, sprung from prison in Spain, and who spent the remainder of the war stewing in Berlin until his death in 1944. The book draws on British intelligence files from the UK’s National Archives, based on the interrogation of Frank Ryan’s German handler, as well as biographies of Ryan published in Ireland. It also pulls from World War II-era diaries, Celtic myth and epic, recent scholarship on Nazi doctors, drugs, espionage, anti-Nazi resistance, everyday life in the Third Reich, the T4 Euthanasia program, Francoist Spain, and the wartime politics of Ireland in order to give readers a unique window onto the Second World War— all in a story that reads like Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus swallowed Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds and George McDonald Fraser’s The Flashman series and washed it down with a spy novel.
Peter Mann has a PhD in Modern European history and is a past recipient of the Whiting Fellowship. He teaches history and literature at Stanford and the University of San Francisco. He is also a graphic artist and since 2014 has published a weekly online syndicated comic strip with Andrews McMeel Universal called The Quixote Syndrome.