It’s hard to believe that there are stories about the hunt for Nazi war criminals yet to be told. Numerous books and films already exist and seem to cover everything that can be said on the matter. So it was with some reservation that I approached reading Joseph Kanon’s new novel, The Accomplice, which promised a hunt for one such war criminal. Fortunately, Kanon’s skill as a master storyteller quickly allayed my fears.
The Accomplice is a fast-paced, emotionally charged novel. While the subject matter is familiar—there were moments of “I’ve heard all this before”—Kanon’s characters were so well-drawn and authentic in their portrayal that it was easy to put those early doubts behind.
Kanon’s riveting story takes place some 17 years following Nazi Germany’s downfall at the end of World War II. He begins by introducing us to Max Weill, a Jewish concentration camp survivor fixated on the atrocities at Auschwitz, where he was imprisoned, and on the man who terrorizes his every waking moment, Otto Schramm. An assistant to Josef Mengele, who oversaw gruesome experiments on camp prisoners and selected those to be sent to the gas chamber, Schramm is believed to be dead at the outset of the novel. But Max believes otherwise.
With Max critically ill from a heart condition, however, his obsession of bringing Schramm to justice falls to Max’s nephew, a CIA desk jockey named Aaron Wiley. Initially, Aaron is reluctant, believing there’s nothing to be gained by dredging up old wounds. But Aaron ultimately concedes, propelling him to chase leads to Buenos Aires where he encounters (and falls in love with) Schramm’s daughter, who may be more devious than she lets on.
Kanon, who previously wrote the critically praised spy thrillers Detectors and Leaving Berlin, uses taut prose and sly dialogue to dial up the intrigue and tension to satisfy any reader, including skeptics like me.