When Hitler decided he wanted the Holy Grail

East Lavant author Niall Edworthy takes a real-life starting point and fictionalises it in his new book Otto Eckhart’s Ordeal.

Niall Edworthy by Dan Stevens
Niall Edworthy by Dan Stevens

There really was a young, naïve German historian who was summoned to Berlin, just before the war, to be given an extraordinary assignment: to find the Holy Grail and bring it back for the glory of Nazi Germany.

From there, Niall weaves his own tale: “It’s an adventure story, really”, Niall explains, “a coming of age. It just happens to be set in 1937 and in Berlin.

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“There really was this young historian and this part of the story is true, and I have tried to be accurate in historical detail and also accurate about Heinrich Himmler.

“The Germans hated Christianity and wanted a new cult of the Fuhrer, but they still realised the power of the Christian church and wanted to co-opt its relics as much as they could.

“They wanted to twist the Christian story to their own benefit, with an Aryan element. They co-opted as much power as they could from any source that they could. They thought that if they could get the Holy Grail, they could twist it to their dark narrative…

“And so they sent this young, naïve historian to go and find the Holy Grail and bring it back to Germany. That much is true. The rest of the story is a good old-fashioned adventure story.

“This guy is 29 and he has got to learn some courage to overcome his own demons and also to face the most appalling challenges.

“He has got to solve them and also to confront his own weaknesses. He has also got to take on the whole might of the Nazi power. The Holy Grail is really just the trigger for the plot. The story is about him, about putting a human being in an impossible situation.

“It is about courage. It is about how we overcome, and I like to think that the aim was to tell the story with some humour, a dark humour… The humour has to be dark if your baddies are Heinrich Himmler and the Nazis.

“It is a difficult book to categorise. It is historical fiction, but it is also a coming-of-age story, a story of how we react when confronted by terrible people.

“I hope it is a story that will speak to many different people, not just the Nazi history enthusiasts or the history enthusiasts.

“It is a gentle story about an insecure young guy being asked to step up.”

Niall was able to do important research in Berlin.

“We had an incredible three or four days in Berlin, and what is incredible is that although Berlin was bombed to dust, the lay-out of the city is still there and a lot of the buildings are still there.

“I certainly don’t think I could have written this book if I hadn’t been there. It really, really makes a difference, just getting a feel for the Berlin sky – and also getting a feel for the lay-out of Berlin, a lot of which hadn’t changed at all.”

The book is published by Universe.

Writing under a variety of nom de plumes, Niall has written more than a dozen books covering a wide range of subjects from military history, biography and outdoor survival to general humour and sport.

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