Books

Ricky O'Rawe on return of Ructions O'Hare in new novel Goering's Gold

David Roy chats to author Richard 'Ricky' O'Rawe about Goering's Gold, the follow-up to his hit Northern Bank robbery-inspired debut novel Northern Heist, a ripping pan-European yarn in which his anti-hero Ructions O'Hare returns to Ireland to hunt for Nazi gold while pursued by the IRA, the police and far right terrorists...

Ricky O'Rawe outside the former Northern Bank at Donegall Square West. Picture by Hugh Russell.

"I LOVE writing about Ructions – I have about four more books about him in my head," enthuses Ricky O'Rawe of James 'Ructions' O'Hare, the wily IRA man turned 'ordinary decent criminal' in O'Rawe's hit 2018 novel Northern Heist and its new follow-up Goering's Gold.

The author and playwright's fiction debut, Northern Heist introduced readers to Ructions as he pulls off one of the most audacious bank robberies in history at the National Bank in Belfast – and lets a supposedly disbanded IRA take the blame.

O'Rawe knows a thing or two about heists himself: the Belfast man is a convicted IRA bank robber who served eight years in Long Kesh, where he became the press officer for the H-Block prisoners during the 1981 hunger strikes as detailed in his non-fiction best seller Blanketmen.

In Goering's Gold, Ructions and his accomplice/girlfriend Eleanor are living a life of luxury in France. However, their idyll is rudely interrupted by the sudden re-appearance of Robert 'Tiny' Murdoch, the IRA commander who took the fall for letting Ructions slip through his fingers.

Just as the ever-cunning bank raider is forced to go on the run, a group of heavily armed men invade the home of his friend, Serge Mercier, demanding that the master money launderer hand over a ceremonial baton once owned by notorious Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering.

Could it be the key to unlocking the secret of what happened to a huge stash of plundered gold bullion Hitler's right hand man is believed to have spirited away at the end of the war – possibly to Ireland? Ructions is determined to find out, but to do so he'll need to stay five steps ahead of the IRA, a pan-European police operation which could jeopardise peace in Northern Ireland and some ruthless neo-Nazis intent on funding a plan to finish what their Fuhrer started.

"I've had Goering in my head for quite a while," explains O'Rawe, whose other non-fiction books include Afterlives: The Hunger Strike and the Secret Offer that Changed Irish History and In The Name of The Son: The Gerry Conlon Story, the latter of which he adapted for the stage with playwright Martin Lynch, opening to rave reviews last year at the Lyric and set for a return run this summer.

Ricky O'Rawe, Shaun Blaney, Tracy Lindsey and Tony Devlin with Jimmy Faye, Martin Lynch and Jim Sheridan at the launch of the In The Name of The Son play. Picture by Mark Marlow

"He was by far and away the most charismatic of the Nazi leaders. He struck me as a real character: he was a total narcissist who actually didn't even want to go to war, he just wanted a good life with plenty of dough and as many titles as possible – but he was number two to Hitler, so he just had to run with it. And of course he signed off on the declaration which basically give legality for the Holocaust."

However, it wasn't Goering's life which piqued O'Rawe's interest so much as the mysterious circumstances surrounding the Nazi leader's death – "Nobody to this day knows how he got the cyanide pill which he used to cheat the hangman," he tells me – and the whereabouts of his infamous stash of gold bullion, which some historians have speculated may have ended up in Ireland as a result of us being neutral during the Second World War.

"I started thinking, 'What would he have of value that would interest to Ructions?' – and that was gold", says O'Rawe of using this real-life intrigue as a springboard for the page-turning pan-European treasure hunt detailed in Goering's Gold.

"Then I started thinking about where the gold might be and how you might find it. I noticed in old pictures and films that everywhere Goering went, he had this ceremonial baton that Hitler gave him.

"So I thought, let's tie the baton in with the cyanide tablet and the gold. Let's think about who ended up with the baton, and maybe neo-Nazis would still be looking for it as a possible clue to finding the gold."

The author adds: "All books start with one thought and then you just develop it and develop it. And even when you start writing, that keeps developing as the characters and situations come through and demand more space and attention.

"My view is that the best novels are ones that are not too far away from historical event, yet still retain a degree of mystery about them."

Goering's Gold is an even more ambitious novel than its cleverly constructed predecessor in that the action not only involves a cast of multiple characters, but also involves a narrative which spans multiple countries and time periods.

Readers will definitely get the sense that O'Rawe was really keen to let his imagination run wild this time around when it comes to what Ructions and co get up to: at times, Goering's Gold reads more like a globe-trotting James Bond adventure than a traditional Northern Ireland noir or crime thriller – and it's far funnier too.

"I really wanted to internationalise Ructions and the hunt that's at the centre of the story," explains the author.

"When the 'Ra catches up with him in Burgundy where's he's got all this dough and a great life, suddenly he's back on the run and weaving his way across Europe. Eventually, I wanted to bring them all back to Ireland – and to make it 'treasure island'."

Ricky O'Rawe outside the former Northern Bank at Donegall Square West. Picture by Hugh Russell

While readers can rest assured that O'Rawe has come up with an Irish hiding place for the titular Goering's gold in the novel that's a stroke of sheer genius – and which will certainly not be revealed here – he initially had chosen a different spot, until a chat with a certain investigative journalist provided further, better inspiration.

"The gold was originally going to be hidden on an island with a round tower on the Shannon," O'Rawe reveals.

"I was out for a drink with Darragh MacIntyre, who's a good friend, and I was telling him about that. He says to me: 'I know where there's a better round tower than that'. And so we went for a drive to visit it."

Any guesses where this fateful drive ended? You'll get nothing out of us.

While O'Rawe is currently working on a new non-fiction book that has only served to further reinforce his recently discovered enjoyment of writing from imagination – "It's taken me down dark holes to places I didn't want to go," he says glumly of the Troubles-related project – Ructions and co could be set to take him away from all that for good.

With plans for a TV adaptation of Northern Heist now well underway and an option to adapt Goering's Gold as well also part of the deal – "it's just a matter of them getting the readies together to make it," comments O'Rawe – the Belfast author's publishers here and in the US are currently suggesting that he might well be able to dedicate himself to penning a new 'Ructions O'Hare novel' (as the books are now cover-branded) every other year for the foreseeable future, if he so chooses.

"They are saying that Ructions could go on forever," he laughs, "and I love writing him – so I definitely think he's going to be around for a while yet."

Goering's Gold will be published on May 26 by Melville House. Northern Heist is available now, published by Merrion Press.

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