W&N has acquired A Death in the Vatican by British Book Award and Baillie Gifford Prize winner Philippe Sands.
The novel is a historical detective story that sets out to uncover the truth behind what happened to leading Nazi Otto von Wächter, indicted in 1946 for "mass murder".
Described as an "exhilarating follow up to East West Street", also published by W&N and named Non-fiction: Narrative Book of the Year at the British Book Awards this week, A Death in the Vatican is based on research that began in 2010 and continued through the making of the prize-winning BBC Storyville documentary "My Nazi Legacy". It is also the basis for a BBC Radio 4 series and podcast that will be broadcast in early 2018.
The book's subject is SS Brigadesführer Otto Freiherr von Wächter, a minor character in East West Street who presided over an authority on which territory hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles were killed, and who subsequently - indicted for mass murder by the end of the war - went on the run. Hunted by the Soviets, the Americans and the British, as well as groups of Poles and Jews, he spent three years hiding in the Austrian Alps before making his way to Rome and being taken in by the Vatican where he remained for three months. While preparing to travel to Argentina on the "ratline" he died unexpectedly, in July 1949, a few days after having lunch with an "old comrade" whom he suspected of having been recruited by the Americans.
By seeking answers to the questions of Wächter’s youngest child, in A Death in the Vatican Sands will offer an account of the daily life of a Nazi fugitive, the love between Wächter and his wife Charlotte, who continued to write regularly to each other while he was on the run, and insight into life in the Vatican and among American and Soviet spies active in Rome at the start of the Cold War.
Jenny Lord, publishing director for Weidenfeld & Nicolson Non-fiction, acquired UK and Commonwealth rights from Georgia Garrett at Rogers, Coleridge & White. Vicky Wilson at Knopf acquired US and Canadian rights from Melanie Jackson.
Lord said: "We are thrilled that Philippe has chosen A Death in the Vatican as his next book project. With his rare ability to map intimate human stories onto a dramatic political landscape, his curiosity and wisdom, we feel certain this book will be an exhilarating follow up to East West Street."
Sands, author, professor of Law at UCL and a practising barrister at Matrix Chambers, said: "The life and death of Otto Wächter, a minor character in East West Street, offers an intriguing insight into events after the war – life on the run, matters of the heart, and espionage and intrigue in Rome and the Vatican as the Cold War heated up. I first came across him five years ago, and never quite could let go of his story, elements of which have so generously been shared with me by his son. I am delighted to be working with Weidenfeld & Nicolson on this unique and unexpected story."
A Death in the Vatican will be published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in hardback and e-book in 2019 or 2020.