Action & Adventure
International Mystery & Crime
Nazi war criminals
~97,000 (10-12 hours reading)
15th August 2021 (print)
31st August 2021 (ebook)
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THE DARK PLACE
Available now on Amazon
A Spanish police inspector, just days from retirement, is ordered to find a missing boy and to catch whoever had taken him, but quickly discovers that there are secrets that must be kept, a history that cannot be told, and that evil hides in dark places.
Málaga province, Spain. 1970.
Captain Jesus Garcia of the Spanish Guardia Civil had never entirely believed that he would live to reach his retirement. After three decades of experiencing the worst of humanity, a comfortable state pension is just days away for the man, affectionately known by the younger police officers, as ‘The Inspector’.
But when the son of one of the most influential members of his remote town’s secretive community of German nationals goes missing, Garcia finds his tenure extended and he is ordered to direct his suspicion toward a recently arrived resident to the town, a retired British businessman and WW2 veteran. With the feared secret police on their way from Madrid, the pressure is on to find the boy and a culprit. Any culprit.
Garcia had survived the brutality of the Spanish civil war and the difficult years which followed by steering clear of situations such as this one, but he must now confront not only the legacy of his own past, but that of his troubled nation if he is to save the boy.
Readers’ praise for Damian Vargas and THE DARK PLACE.
★★★★★ “A gripping, well-written, and utterly believable suspense thriller that will have you hooked from start to finish!”
★★★★★ “Damian Vargas knows how to tell a story. Impeccably researched and told with heart. A really satisfying read.”
★★★★★ “A proper page-turner and a somewhat different angle towards this part of history. Intrigue and drama by the bucketful…Vargas is getting better with every book.”
★★★★★ “…feels really well researched…really well written with lots of twists and a great ending.”
★★★★★ “…The author paints such a graphic picture of the characters and locations that it is easy to visualize the story, almost as if it’s a film. The story draws you…I found myself unable to put the book down, turning page after page to see what would happen next.”
I’m a bit of a World War 2 nerd. I once took a former girlfriend to Holland in the middle of a very cold winter, in order to traipse around Arnhem, Nijmegen and other famous sites of Operation Market Garden and The Battle of The Bulge. Our relationship didn’t last, you might not be surprised to hear. I’ve also done similar such trips to explore bunkers, museums, cemeteries and bunkers in Dieppe, Normandy and Berlin.
The post-war legacy in Europe has also always fascinated me. The Cold War was one (huge) part of that, but in particular, I was always intrigued by how so many thousands of Nazis and other war criminals melted back into society, most never paying for the crimes. When I moved to Spain several years ago, I read much about the Spanish Civil War and the role the Germans played in it, but then also discovered how so many high-ranking Germans and wanted Nazi war criminals had sought sanctuary in Spain after the war. Seventy-five years later, they are no longer around, but what must have it have been like in the decades after WW2? What influence did they exert? Who protected them, and what dark ambitions were they working to achieve?
A real-life encounter with a witness to those times, and the realization that I live not far from a village where many of these people lived and thrived, sparked my imagination, and The Dark Place was born.
Prologue: A Man Called ‘Anders’
I still recall the encounter most vividly.
I was up in the hills, sitting on a dusty step outside the refugio, eating a sandwich. The sun was beating down on my exposed skin. I was forced to shield my face with my hand to make eye contact with the septuagenarian with his long white hair in a ponytail; the man who I shall refer to as “Anders”.
I can no longer recall quite how we got onto the subject of German war criminals who once lived in Spain, hiding from justice. However, what he told me has remained with me ever since; how a community of senior Nazis once lived in Malaga province, protected by the Franco regime.
A quick internet search will provide plenty of articles about escaped German war criminals who once lived in Spain – Otto Skorzeny and Leon Degrelle being just two – but what Anders told me sounded much more significant.
He had been a resident in Malaga province since arriving in Spain in the early 1960s.
‘I made a lot of money in the travel and tourism industry,’ he said, ‘and I now own several properties. Although I have no heirs to inherit them.’
A young man when he first came to the country, he had built a lucrative career as the European economies recovered in the post-war years, and as their tourist industries flourished. His niche had been to service the desires of the wealthy and powerful and he could, he said, ‘tell of a thousand scandals involving movie stars, musicians, footballers, businesspeople and corrupt politicians.’
However, the most interesting stories of all, he told me, involved a secretive community of German nationals who lived in an area inland from Fuengirola that the locals know as La Mesita Blanca. ‘You won’t find that name on any map,’ he said. ‘But it is a place high in the hills, about thirty kilometres inland, and was once full of Germans who escaped the Allies at the end of the war.’
This seemed beyond incredible at first, but it piqued my curiosity, and I think he could tell. I have held an avid interest in the Second World War since I was a young boy; ever since my grandfather first showed me his collections of wartime trinkets and told me a little about some of his escapades. I was unable to resist pushing Anders for more information.
He spoke of pale-skinned men and women in their fifties and sixties, with unsmiling faces and suspicious eyes. Men and women who would treat with contempt the Spanish workers who toiled in their gardens, who cleaned their houses, and who attended to the pools, but who were polite to Anders. ‘This was most likely,’ he surmised, ‘because of my blonde hair and blue eyes.’
I remember the searching gaze in those eyes and the short, one-sided twitch of his face as he delivered those words. I felt certain that it spoke of regrets long-since suppressed.
‘Most of the men lived alone. A few with their families. They each owned their own properties at the secluded end of the valley. Some had businesses. One bred horses. Several had wineries. And there was at least one import/export company. They would congregate in a big tavern that one of their number built in the 1950s. The building is still there today, but now it is quite different. Now it is like any other restaurant in any other Spanish village. Back in those days, it was like a Bavarian hunting lodge. The Spanish from the surrounding areas used to refer to the village as “Little Munich”.’
The Germans who lived there were, he explained, ‘Most protective of their privacy,’ and with good reason, it seemed.
‘But what were all these Germans doing in Spain?’ I asked him.
Anders looked at me with a quizzical eye and the faintest hint of a smile. ‘They had been hunted after the war had ended. But they were protected here. In those days, the approaches to the far end of the valley were guarded by Spanish soldiers. Nobody could go beyond the old pueblo without permission. There were barriers across the only paved road into the village. A stone watchtower sat on the hill above – a three-story building designed to resemble a water tower, but in which there were only men with binoculars and rifles.’
‘And these people, these “war criminals”,’ I continued. ‘Are you saying that they lived in complete freedom, without fear of consequence from their past? For how long? And why in that place?’
Anders spoke of a secure compound that sat on a plateau at the far end of the valley where the surrounding cliffs met to form a narrow ravine; a place he had only glimpsed himself, but where – some said – SS men had attended for rest and recuperation during the war years. It had been a veritable holiday resort for the worst of Hitler’s most loyal servants.
I was astounded and, I must confess, more than a little sceptical. ‘And this “compound”,’ I said. ‘Does it still exist? If I drove there now, would I find it?’
He gave me a philosophical smile and shrugged. ‘The old house might still be there but of the rest of the structures, not much remains, I would wager. By the time of the dictator’s death, in 1975, most of the Germans were gone. There was an incident, you see.’
He nodded. ‘Yes, in 1970, and involving an Englishman. He had bought a property to renovate and lived there for a short while. I only met him once. A woman who was once dear to me worked for him for a summer. It was how I met her.’
‘And how did this man’s presence affect things?’
Anders scratched at his grey stubble. ‘Some unfortunate events occurred, and the authorities became involved. It all changed after that.’
‘You’re not being very specific.’
He shrugged. ‘I never knew exactly what transpired. My friend was also a very secretive person and she took that knowledge to her grave. But the people that lived there realised that their time in Spain had come to an end. Most of them fled within a year. They travelled to Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. I organised the travel for quite a few of them. Some moved out East.’
‘You helped them?’ I asked, aghast. Until that moment, I had somehow failed to connect the old man’s declared profession with the incredible tales of which he was recounting.
He shrugged. ‘Of course. It was most profitable. Why not? If I didn’t, somebody else would have.’
‘But these people were war criminals, presumably with the blood of many people on their hands. They were monsters. Did that not trouble you?’
My change of demeanour had unnerved him, and I realised that our conversation was concluding. He took a short swig from his dented metal flask, screwed the cap back on, and pushed it into his backpack.
‘It was not my place to judge them, or to ask questions,’ he told me as he fastened his bag and rose to his feet. ‘I have seventy-three years in these bones, my friend,’ he said. ‘And I realised long ago that a man can either allow himself to become bogged down in the mud of other people’s footsteps, or he can seek a path untrod. I chose the latter, and I have no regrets about that. What those men and women in that place felt in their hearts, I cannot know. It is for a higher being than I to examine those souls.’ He shook my hand, bid me farewell, and turned to walk away.
‘How do I find this place?’ I asked.
He had expected the question. He replied without pausing. ‘Take the main road from Fuengirola inland toward Coín. After about twenty kilometres, as you approach the valley that cuts between the dark hills, head west. Keep stopping to ask for directions to La Mesita Blanca. When people stop answering, then you will know you’re close.’
He nodded at me, as if knowing precisely what he had just set in motion, then strode away.
It took several minutes before ‘Anders’ had disappeared amongst the pine and cork trees a few hundred yards below me. I did not take my eyes off him the entire time, but it was not the old Scandinavian that I saw. My mind was already somewhere else; a place high in dark hills, to dangerous times long past, and to a place full of old men with secrets that cast long shadows.
* * *