The Accomplice, by Joseph Kanon
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, although as is often the case, the cover drew me in initially, with its grainy monochrome image [and the now almost ubiquitous shortcut of using one or more characters walking away from the viewer, to simplify the design process], and the supporting information under the author’s name, that he is the “bestselling author of Leaving Berlin”; also, the author’s bio informs us that, among his other works [some or all of which have won “the Edgar Award”: nope!] he wrote The Good German, which made me think of John le Carré, but it’s not one of his. This latter book, incidentally, has been made into a film, starring George Clooney & Cate Blanchett, although Kanon didn’t supply the screenplay; the film was given a lousy review in The Guardian, but it includes this sentence, which makes no sense to me [although I can’t be bothered to get to the bottom of it!]: “The Good German is culpably feeble and detached, especially considering that the original was released in 1942, and conceived far earlier:…” Kanon’s book was published in 2001, according to Wikipedia, [never knowingly incorrect?], so I wonder if the review was confused, having compared the film to “the kind of 1940s movie we know and love”: whatever, as previously stated… heigh ho, no such problem with this book.
The book is set in 1962, a febrile period in itself and, just for once [although, to be fair, this isn’t le Carré: Kanon is American], despite opening in Hamburg, no mention is made of East Germany and/or Communist machinations [normally associated with Berlin, the popular east-west interface, of course]; neither do our lovable moptops from the ‘pool get an honourable mention, which is a somewhat surprising omission, given that they performed in various clubs in that busy port of Hamburg from August 1960 to December 1962, according to this Wikipedia article: presumably, this local colour must have been seen as an unnecessary distraction from the narrative. Aaron Wiley is visiting his elderly uncle Max, a Nazi-hunter, albeit not in the same league as Simon Wiesenthal, about whom Max is somewhat dismissive, seeing him as a publicity-seeker: Max is more methodical, preferring to work his way through dusty files & archives to achieve his results. He is trying to convince Aaron to join him, despite the latter having a solid but also unexciting desk job with the CIA at home in America. A chance sighting of an old enemy, while the two of them are drinking coffee outdoors, is such a shock to Max, that he suffers a heart attack, but he is able to tell Aaron that, although the man he saw is by all supposedly reliable accounts already dead, Max is in no doubt whatsoever that he was not mistaken, so it would be the crowning glory to his career if this fugitive was brought to justice.
Unfortunately, Max dies, so after much soul-searching, Aaron decides to continue Max’s work, but although it will be unofficial, as it is a personal matter, one of his local colleagues is able to give him limited assistance; also, he hooks up with a local news photographer who scents a very good story. It transpires that the fugitive, Otto Schramm, has a daughter, and Aaron establishes a relationship with her, to get to her father but, inevitably, Aaron falls for the woman. I can’t really go any further than this with the story, but there are a few unexpected twists in the narrative, before the dénouement, which is somewhat bitter-sweet. Overall, this is quite a good story: one which is very firmly set in its timeframe, because much later, and none of the original perpetrators would be left alive. The paperback version I read was published in 2020 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., ISBN 978-1-4711-6268-8.