The Accomplice: A Novel

Written by Joseph Kanon
Review by David Drum

“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves,” an old Nazi hunter observes, citing Confucius. The Accomplice is a journey of revenge.

A young Jewish CIA analyst named Aaron Wiley vacations in Germany during the Cold War, visiting his uncle, a Nazi hunter. When a Nazi who worked with Mengele is accidentally sighted and the favorite uncle begs for his help, Wiley takes off for Buenos Aires, Argentina, to hunt down a war criminal previously believed dead.

Wiley makes contact with the CIA, gets information, and falls into a relationship with the war criminal’s beautiful daughter. This complicated relationship is the emotional heart of the book. Wiley’s goal is to find the old Nazi and get him back to Germany for a public trial, but he is joined by the CIA and the Mossad, who seek to kill or use him for their own purposes. Wiley lies, breaks laws, violates procedures, shoots people, and more on a complicated journey of revenge.

Kanon captures the flavor of post-war Hamburg’s Jewish community and the exotic milieu of German expatriates in Buenos Aires. He writes terse, convincing dialogue, and is alive to the subtexts of human relationships. The book is basically a page-turner, but the reader feels a lump of guilt in the throat after each betrayal, and the horror of good intentions going badly wrong.

If Wiley lands in Argentina a little too proficient at the cloak-and-dagger work he’s never done before, by the end he’s made enough missteps to be human. The denouement is convoluted, featuring a very long chase sequence that has perhaps one too many twists and turns.

Like the end of the movie Chinatown, even the righteous emerge compromised in The Accomplice.