The Accomplice, by Joseph Kanon

Joseph Kanon’s The Accomplice stirs up a hell of a historical hornet’s nest. It begins with a conversation between a Nazi hunting uncle and his CIA nephew. The uncle, a survivor, believes that he is close to the end of his life. The man he’s been hunting ever since the end of the war, Otto Schramm, is believed to be dead but Max Weill is not so sure. Aaron, the nephew, is reluctant to take on his uncle’s mission. After all, in 1962, the Nuremberg Trials are long over. Some convicted Nazis have already completed their sentences. In spite of Max’s tenacity, its a random siting of Schramm in Hamburg of all places that breaks through Aaron’s resistance.

When Max suddenly dies and Aaron and a friend are attacked trying to get a photo of the mystery man, the plot races off with Aaron. He travels from Hamburg to Buenos Aires, where many Nazis fled after the war—with help from a series of ratlines. The Accomplice is mostly written as a thriller. Aaron has to walk several tightropes to find Schramm and not tip off his CIA bosses to his unsanctioned hunting. There are chases and gunfights. His allies all have agendas of their own that may not jibe with Aaron’s plan to make Schramm somehow face a trial in Germany. There’s even a potentially dangerous dame that Aaron falls in lust with at first sight.

But it’s not all thriller. There are moments when Aaron has to wrestle with his conscience. Aaron’s investigations in Argentina kick up a lot of nasty specters from the past. We learn about Juan Perón‘s warm welcome of Nazis. Alois Hudal gets a mention, too. Most distressing, at least for American readers, we get definite hints that the American government also helped Nazis to flee to help them fight the Soviets. Being just one man means that Aaron’s conscience doesn’t get to do much more than point out that everything about the whole situation is wrong as he makes one compromise after another.

Kanon does justice to the premise, but I couldn’t help but think about The Odessa File, by Frederick Forsyth. I remember liking The Odessa File more than I liked The Accomplice; Forsyth spends more time building up suspense where Kanon races from scene to scene. Also, Kanon skips over parts of the Nazi hunting that I find the most interesting: the digging through archives to find their trail. Aaron knows what city his quarry is in. It’s all just a matter of getting his hands on the war criminal.

I realize that it sounds like I didn’t particularly care for The Accomplice. I found this book to be mostly entertaining and I enjoyed the quandary that the maybe-a-baddie woman character was in. I just which that Kanon had slowed things down a bit. The point of a premise like Nazi hunting is that it gives readers a chance to really think about the dilemma of justice versus political expediency and terrible familial guilt. If you’re looking for a fast read based on actual history, The Accomplice would be a good choice. For readers who like a slower burn and/or a book that makes room for ethical dilemmas, I would recommend The Odessa File instead.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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