HOW exactly does a pistol used by Adolf Hitler in WWI end up killing an IRA turncoat in the rural town of Kempsey?
Well, that's a question award-winning author Tom Keneally answers in his latest novel, Corporal Hitler's Pistol.
The book is a work of fiction, but the author says that parts of the story were inspired by his own experiences growing up in the Macleay, albeit with a little bit of artistic licence.
"I grew up hearing all about people in the old town from my parents and grandparents," Tom said.
"My grandfather owned a store in East Kempsey, before selling it to Percy Chadwick, who re-opened under a new name. It still operates as Chaddies to this day.
"The Kempsey I write about was my parents' Kempsey, how they saw it, and interacted with the people. It's become a mythic place that no longer exists, but it fascinates me all the same.
"There are endless story possibilities, but I just hope modern Kempsey can forgive me for writing this novel."
Some aspects of the plot might sound far-fetched, but Tom says for the most part, everything he has written is entirely plausible for the time period.
Corporal Hitler's Pistol follows an affluent Kempsey matron who spots a young Aboriginal boy who bears an uncanny resemblance to her husband.
She reacts by demanding a divorce from her husband, and then tries to take control of the child's life and steer him toward a future she deems acceptable.
There was an urban legend in town that a Kempsey veteran from WWI had captured a young corporal Hitler.Tom Keneally
At the same time, a WWI veteran has a seizure in a cinema and is taken to Sydney for treatment.
Back home in Kempsey, an Irish farmhand is murdered, presumably using the titular pistol, and a gay piano-playing veteran is implicated.
This leads into a relatively minor detail, but arguably the most fascinating part of the whole tale, how exactly did Adolf Hitler's pistol end up in rural Australia?
Surprisingly, Tom says this part of the story also has elements of truth.
"There was an urban legend in town that a Kempsey veteran from WWI had captured a young corporal Hitler," he said.
"After his weapons were confiscated, the German managed to escape, but the Macleay man kept the pistol, and it ended up back in Australia when he came home.
"After doing some research, I found that soldiers from the Macleay were in a regiment who fought in a battle where many German prisoners were captured, who later escaped.
"Suddenly, it became entirely plausible. Maybe Hitler was among the prisoners who were captured, and later escaped; it opens up all sorts of story possibilities.
"Plus, I must admit that the idea of a local boy from the Macleay taking Hitler prisoner makes me chuckle a bit."
Corporal Hitler's Pistol is out now, and TomKeneally will talk online via Zoom about his latest book in an event hosted by Georges River Libraries on September 7, between 6pm and 7pm.
The event is free, to book: www.eventbrite.com.au/e/author-talk-tom-keneally-via-zoom-tickets-162380202557.
Or for further information, call 9330-9527.
Also making the news:
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: