Intrigue: The Ratline, Reviewed

Plus: The Laundromat drops tomorrow (maybe!)

Intrigue: The Ratline is definitely the A-listiest of all the pods I’ve listened to during this project. First, it covers one of the most famous mass murderers in recent memory, the Nazi party. (Who? Weekly listeners will surely agree that Nazis are a “them” in every sense of the word.) But before you write this BBC-produced pod off as less Oxygen and more History Channel -- as I did, to be honest, when I first heard about the show -- you should know that there is indeed an unexpected murder mystery at the heart of the show, one that made me want to keep listening even after nine-plus hours in the car.

In addition to the star power of the Nazis, we have a couple recognizable voices on the show. Its host is a big name lawyer named Philippe Sands, who you might not know if you’re not into international tribunals and the prosecution of genocide, but if you are, he’s a pretty big deal. Sands is investigating the disappearance and death of Otto von Wächter, a high-ranking Nazi official who Sands believes to have been responsible for the orders that killed not just Sands’s ancestors, but scores of other Jews. As part of his investigation, he’s befriended Horst, von Wächter’s now-elderly son, who has allowed Sands access to his family archives, including letters between his parents. Those letters are reenacted by, get this, Laura Linney and Stephen Fry.

Doesn’t it sound like I’m recounting a weird dream? But there’s more. In the middle of the investigation, as Sands is trying to figure out how von Wächter escaped prosecution, he consults his friend and neighbor who he says was engaged in British intelligence during WW II AND HAPPENS TO BE MF-ING JOHN LE CARRÉ.

Even if you’re not a history buff, you get sucked into the story, which is wild -- even by spy-vs-spy, post WWII Europe standards. There’s CIA stuff, Nazi hunters from the DoJ, and corrupt Catholic priests. OK, scratch that “weird dream” line from the last graf. This podcast is a Stefon sketch. It has everything.

If you like your podcasts freewheeling, spontaneous, and idiosyncratic, Intrigue: The Ratline might not be to your taste, as it’s slickly-produced, next-level stuff. This is more like an “audio feature” than a run-and-gun investigation, as you might expect from the Beeb. However, Sands (and, oddly, Horst) keep this podcast from feeling like pure entertainment, and I mean that in the best possible way. Though this show feels marquee-level big time, there’s still a heart and soul to it that goes beyond “oh, man, here’s another crazy Nazi story.” Sands allows you to feel the humanity of all of the players -- even the Nazis -- without letting anyone off the hook. It’s deftly done, and a true example of how you can still tell tales from a well-worn era, if you approach the topic with the right angle. You can listen to Intrigue: The Ratline here. -- EB


What I’m reading from my hotel room in Elko, Nevada:

  • “Reruns of Unsolved Mysteries reveal the Bay Area’s weirdest crimes.” [SF Chronicle] My friend Beth Spotswood scored a coveted gig as a columnist for the Chron a couple years ago, and now she gets to write about whatever she wants. Last week, that was her obsession with Unsolved Mysteries, a topic I think many Best Evidence readers can relate to.

  • ‘White Boy Rick’ scheduled for early Florida prison release.” [The Detroit News] I don’t know why I’ve never watched the feature film based on Richard Wershe Jr., a teen FBI agent turned Detroit drug dealer who’s been in jail for the last 30 years, and will be released on October 26, 2020. Is the movie good; should I check it out?

  • “'Panama Papers' law firm sues Netflix over film based on scandal.” [Reuters] At issue is The Laundromat, which Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, the subject of the movie, says portrays them as “ruthless uncaring lawyers who are involved in money laundering, tax evasion, bribes and/or other criminal conduct.” The movie is set to drop on Netflix tomorrow, and the legal effort is intended to stop its release.


What is this thing? This should help.

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