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Is it possible that the man held in Spandau Prison for the past 32 years, the last of the Nazi war criminals, is not really Rudolf Hess? Thomas, a British surgeon who treated the prisoner, believes that it is not only possible, but that ""Prisoner #7"" cannot be Hitler's one-time deputy. In May 1941, a man claiming to be Hess parachuted into Scotland on a personal mission seeking peace with Britain. Arrested immediately, the man was identified as Hess by people who had seen him before the war; but the official interrogations turned up many peculiarities, given the known details of Hess' life--the prisoner got his age and birth-date wrong, had no coherent peace proposals, ate the wrong foods in the wrong amounts, etc. His erratic behavior and claimed loss of memory, coupled with Berlin's official explanation of Hess' flight, led to the conclusion that he was mentally unbalanced. Thomas, his curiosity piqued, researched his prospective patient when he was posted to the British Military Hospital in Berlin in 1972. Records showed that Hess had been wounded twice in World War I, once by a bullet through the lung--and Thomas was astounded to discover that Prisoner #7 had no scars from such a wound! That evidence--or lack of evidence--is still Thomas' trump card, but he has fleshed out his case with proof that the plane that crashed in Scotland could not have been the same one Hess took off in, that the course the prisoner said he flew was impossibly long, that Hess had planned to meet British peace-advocates in a neutral country, etc. Thomas speculates that the British Secret Service must have known all this, but had some mysterious reason for allowing the fiction to continue. Thomas' theory of what really happened is less convincing than his refutation; he suspects that SS chief Himmler, with the aid of Goering, had Hess' plane shot down over the North Sea while Hess was on a training flight, and then sent out a double in a similar plane in an elaborate plan to eliminate his rival Hess while moving to overthrow Hitler by having the Hess double negotiate for peace on Himmler's terms. Thomas thinks the plan fell through because of the impostor's political incompetence, while fear of reprisal on his family held and continues to hold him to the Hess fiction!! That's too much to swallow when compared to the possibility that it was Hess' war record and not Hess that was falsified. After word of Thomas' book got out in England, the Russians announced that dental records prove that Prisoner #7 is Hess, a checking procedure Thomas doesn't endorse, sticking instead to the war-wound method. Thomas' musings may be farfetched, but his snooping has produced an engrossing detective story. A must for WW II intrigue freaks.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row