The Nazi Hunter
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". . . 'time is running out' to prosecute the men who avoided Nuremberg."
The Nazi Hunter, Alan Elsner’s first fictional work, is set in 1994 because war criminals would possibly still be alive in the 1990s. And, as noted several times in the book, “time is running out” to prosecute the men who avoided Nuremberg.
A German woman, Sophie Reiner, comes to Mark Cain’s office to bring evidence about a Nazi war criminal living in the United States. She agrees to bring him documents the next day that will prove the man’s guilt in the murder of a half million Jews in Poland’s Belzec extermination camp.
She never arrives for the appointment. Cain discovers that she has been murdered shortly after speaking to him. He is haunted by her memory and the possibility that a criminal is living free. An Orthodox Jew, he feels especially driven to bring Nazis to justice. His family lost several members to the “Final Solution” including his father’s parents at the same camp Sophie had pinpointed as the site of the atrocities.
Following every possible lead, he discovers that renowned singer and naturalized American citizen Delatrucha (“the trout”) is in reality Franz Beck. Beck had been an SS officer who had served “with enthusiasm” at Belzec. Beck, among other things, sung German folk songs to the Jews as they were led to the gas chambers to make them less suspicious of their fate and calm the restless lines of waiting victims.
Like many Nazis, Delatrucha had moved to Argentina. As Roberto Schnellinger, he was offered a safe haven until he could change his identity and travel to the United States as a new man—Roberto Delatrucha. In America, he became famous, rich, politically connected, and protected by high ranking friends.
In a subplot, Cain’s obsession nearly drives his new girlfriend away but in the end, they agree to start over under more normal circumstances. No flying all over the world, no working all night, and no crazies trying to kill them. Just two people getting to know one another—without sliding down cliffs to escape a house burning down around them.
Cain tries to stop Delatrucha from receiving a lifetime achievement award in music on national television. He fails to stop the ceremony, but he makes sure that Delatrucha knows his secret is out. Delatrucha’s actions at the after-show party stun the audience.
Most of the story is told through dialogue although Hunter uses some introspection on Cain’s part as he questions the rotten things he himself has done in his own life. It is lean on descriptive passages, but it seems appropriate for the book.
The action leads Cain to the United States, Germany, and the Ukraine in his efforts to gather enough evidence to legally condemn Delatrucha over a span of two months. The pacing seems uneven due to subplots that interrupt the flow of the main plot. The subplots, more suitable to a murder mystery than a thriller, appear to be added onto the main story. The multiple storylines are tied to the main plot in the end but seem more distracting than entertaining. Despite the laborious subplots that slow down the pace, The Nazi Hunter remains a good read.
Reviewer: Denise Lowe