Set against the backdrop of post-World War II Germany, The Runner
is the story of Devlin Judge, an ex-New York City detective turned lawyer on the hunt for Nazi SS soldier Erich Seyss, recently escaped from an American POW camp. Seyss, a former Olympic track star known as "The White Lion," is responsible for myriad heinous war crimes, including the murder of a platoon of unarmed American prisoners--one of whom was Judge's own brother. Initially a member of the International Legal Tribunal, set to try former Nazis for crimes against humanity, Judge begs for the opportunity to track Seyss down. With only a week in which to do so, his hunt for the cold-blooded killer leads Judge to a race not only for his own life but for the future of Europe itself. Judge is pursuing a killer, but he is also chasing the ghosts of guilt, having decided not to enlist in the hopes of advancing his legal career: "Erich Seyss was his confession and his penance, his expiation and absolution, all tucked into a black-and-silver uniform with a death's-head embroidered on its collar and his brother's blood on its cuff."
The Runner lacks the crackling tension of Numbered Account, Christopher Reich's first novel. Even the moments of crucial conflict, or of bloody disaster, seem wan and pallid. The novel is, paradoxically, handicapped by Reich's respect for historical detail: his interest in presenting the grim realities of postwar existence leads him into extensive descriptions of place and time that fail to merge with the story he spins. These "set pieces" stand awkwardly apart, like dour history professors coaxed into supervising the machinations of rambunctious students. Reich's general fidelity to detail also means that the moments in which he temporarily throws accuracy to the wind are painfully apparent: how on earth would Judge, a well-fed and well-dressed American, manage to look as if he belonged in a German work-group detail? And when would any three-star general ever tolerate the gum-cracking insouciance of Judge's driver Darren Honey, a sergeant with no regard for military hierarchy? Oddly enough, the authorial liberties Reich takes with General George Patton, saddling him with a megalomaniac's hatred of the Russians and a schemer's plot to redraw the boundaries of postwar Europe, are largely successful and add a welcome note of barely contained evil.
The Runner works best as a moving meditation on personal and social disjunction: Judge, Seyss, Patton, and the rest are desperately engaged in deciphering the proper place for prewar rules in the postwar chaos--and in confronting the uneasy suspicion that perhaps, after all, there is no place for them or for their beliefs. Judge must move past his easy assumption that the Allied victory was not "just a symbol of superior might but of superior morality": "Overnight, he'd become the hunted, not the hunter.... At some point during the last twenty-four hours, he'd crossed over an interior median into unknown waters. He'd abandoned the rigid structure of his previous life, renounced his worship of authority, and forsworn his devotion to rules and regulation. He'd tossed Hoyle to the wind, and he didn't care." --Kelly Flynn
From Publishers Weekly
Reich's first novel, Numbered Account, did remarkably well for a debut. Unfortunately, Reich has hit upon a stale notion for his follow-up, and although the book moves along smartly, it feels mechanical in both plot and characters. Set in Germany just after the WWII surrender, it stars ace Nazi Olympic runner Erich Seyss, who as an SS man has performed untold atrocities--including the murder, in a massacre of unarmed American soldiers, of hero Devlin Judge's brother. That motivates Judge, a lawyer who is supposed to be prosecuting G?ring at the War Crimes Tribunal, to drop everything and set off in hot pursuit of Seyss when he escapes from a POW camp. Seyss is no ordinary escapee, but is being groomed by a band of German arms industrialists who want to revive their shattered country by turning the Americans against the Russians. How better to do it than by having an apparent Russian assassinate Churchill, Truman and possibly Eisenhower as well at Potsdam? Seyss throws himself into the role with vigor, energy and an amazing number of hairbreadth escapes. Meanwhile, Judge's pursuit is hampered by devious OSS operatives who want just what the Nazis want, for their own reasons; even General George Patton is involved, with apparent tacit support from Field Marshal Montgomery. Seyss's beautiful former lover, Ingrid, further complicates matters. The only remotely believable part of all this is the despairing postwar atmosphere of Germany in smoking ruins, which Reich brings to life with many sharply observant touches. But there's more to bestsellerdom than swift action and a long man-on-man chase against the clock, and most of The Runner is likely to strike fans of Ludlum and Forsyth as overly familiar. Agent, Richard Pine. (Mar.)
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