Werewolf – how a novel grew from a single word

By Matthew Pritchard


I was nineteen the first time I heard the word werewolf used in connection with Nazi soldiers. It occurred while I was speaking to a man who had served in Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II. While I suspect most of the tales he told me were either wildly exaggerated or entirely apocryphal, I realised that his anecdotes of long nights spent on sentry duty, terrified that the werewolves, the name given to Nazi soldiers who continued to fight after the German collapse, had the unmistakable ring of truth to them.

Fast forward twenty years and I had just finished my third crime novel set in modern day Spain. While sketching out future plans with my agent, he suggested I forget about Spain and Danny Sanchez for the time being and add another string to my bow. Did I have any other ideas for books?

‘Yes’, I said, ‘it’s a historical thriller entitled Werewolf’. He asked me what it was about. I told him I had no idea. He said I’d best get writing, then.

I started by reading everything I could on the werewolves – which wasn’t much. Although the concept of these Nazi stalwarts, lurking in Germany’s forests, plotting death and destruction, had immense psychological impact on the Allied troops occupying post-war Germany, subsequent historical research has shown that they were something of a phantasm and that most werewolf attacks were actually the work of German adolescents.

I tried to work with this idea for a few weeks, but by that time I had begun to expand my research into precisely what had occurred in the months following the German capitulation.

The first thing that caught my attention was the role of Field Intelligence in tracking down and arresting Nazis, and the vetting of the German population to determine the levels of each person’s culpability in the atrocities that had occurred, both inside Germany and in the territories conquered and administered by the Nazis. As a former journalist, I have learned how bewitching a firm grasp of the specifics of human interaction in events of huge importance can be, so I set myself the task of discovering exactly how this search for Nazis had come about.

Conversations with the historian, Doctor Christopher Knowles, were extremely useful in pinpointing the specifics of how the British began to vet the German population. Internet research helped me to find photographs of the six pages that comprised the Fragebogen, the questionnaire that all Germans were required to complete on their involvement with the Nazi administration, and the search for Nazis became a central theme in the book.

By that time, I had also become interested in the ways in which the British began the process of Denazification, by which all trace of the Nazi regime was to be expunged from German life. Part of this process involved British policemen being sent out to Germany in order to train their German counterparts in precisely what it meant to police a country within democratic boundaries. As soon as I read this, the character of Detective Inspector Silas Payne leapt into my mind and I knew I had found my central character.

Of course, one of the problems when writing about such a rich historical period is the temptation to cram every piece of fascinating research the writer discovers into the text, which can be very wearisome for the reader, as they are constantly being distracted from the story. I think I managed to resist this temptation with Werewolf: although I actually wrote around 250,000 words, I only used about 80,000.