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I very much doubt if I would have picked this book out, had it been on a library shelf or in a store I was browsing. However, it was part of a box set of crime/thriller books I am currently working my way through (albeit slowly!), and so I have now come to read it.
Christopher Reich was born in Tokyo, studied in America and also worked in Switzerland so I can imagine he had a variety of influences before he wrote this book. In the book he seems to be very knowledgeable about the northern parts of Germany and the Alps in particular. When I was first picked up the book, which starts with Nazi POW Seyss's attempt to escape, I was worried I'd actually picked up a pro-Nazi book for a while! If you concerned about this, don't be, this is a story that tries to reveal both sides via two characters - Seyss and Judge.
I wouldn't normally talk too much about a book cover, going by the 'don't judge a book by its cover' principle and the fact there could be other versions of the book with different covers floating about, but here it has to be necessary. I should point out that I have seen other versions of this book, e.g. with a shadowy figure running that looks more like a painting than a Nazi symbol! My copy of The Runner is coloured in black, white and a bright orangey-red coloured stripe. In the centre is a circle and within that a figure of a man running. The thing about this figure, though, is that on a first glimpse, a lot of people think it is a Swastika. Eventually this lead me to avoid ever reading it in public for fear that people thought I was reading a pro-Nazi book. I even had people make comments at me about it at work and had to stop bringing it in with me. I think this was meant to be a clever play on the two symbols, but unfortunately for me it had the wrong effect and it may just well have been a problem for others too. Strangely enough, when I saw this book in my box-set I was attracted to it - and it is not a style of book cover I normally go for. The running man figure is also printed on each of the pages at different stages of running - so I suppose there's a free cartoon of a man running if you flick through quickly! This is quite clever and they don't look so much like Swastikas so not as bad. The same sort of figure features with the title of each chapter.
Erich Seyss is a Nazi prisoner of war camp 8 near Garmisch. He manages to escape, killing two people (one an American officer) in the process and meets up with Egon Bach, the new chief of Bach Industries, who has a plan for him. He is to commit a terrorist attack at the first meeting of the Big Three, (Stalin, Churchill and Truman) and turn America against Russia so that they drive the Russian forces out of Germany.
In the meantime, Devlin Judge is confronted with pictures of a war crime that resulted in the death of his brother and only relative, Francis Judge. Seyss was behind the mass killing of about 100 unarmed American soldiers and now Judge discovers that he is on the run. He is given seven days to catch or destroy Seyss before he must continue with his own job at the Military Tribunal, but with so little time, how will he do it?
There are some interesting themes that come from this story. Firstly, Devlin Judge formerly worked for the police under Stanley (Spanner) Mullins and the use of violence to get information was common. Now he struggles with the rights and wrongs of this and finds himself in a difficult position when advised to shoot to kill, rather than just capturing his target. Along these lines is another thought, about how prisoners of war should be treated and some of the hypocrisy of what may have gone on after Germany's occupation began. Just because they defeated the evil Hitler & Nazis, did not necessarily make the top powers of Britain, America, France or Russia necessarily all great heroes who made it all better. The story is brutally honest about how ill treatment of Germans and bitter disputes between the other countries went on after the war. Things just don't get better overnight.
Also there is the conflict of family loyalty and political or other beliefs. Seyss seems to choose his own beliefs over his family, but there are also characters like Ingrid Bach, his former lover, who chooses to look after her family even though she knows that really she is ashamed of the terrible things that her father did during the war. It is hard to judge that sort of situation, but the story really makes you think about what is important to you and what would you do faced with that same situation.
It took me quite a while to really get into this book, which at first I was actually quite reluctant to read, but as the story built up to each turning point, I found it harder to put the book down, and even found myself wanting to rush home so I could carry on reading it! In terms of the level of mystery, there were minor things that I was able to figure out very quickly by myself, before the characters, but then there were deeper mysteries that had me baffled. Reich keeps back just the right amount of information so keep you wondering. This was good because it kept my interest and yet I still felt good for having worked some things out! As I continued with the book I have to admit I started to feel a little impatient to know what happens, but as it was all very eventful I was certainly not getting bored. Not the kind of story I would normally even bother to look at, I'm glad I read this book.
One of the great things about this book is how Christopher Reich introduces and describes his characters. They all seem to be very unique, often eccentric and also easy to imagine in your mind. In spite of having come across a countless number of characters in this book, there were very few, maybe only one or two that I had to look back in the book to remind myself of. The most familiar characters are Seyss and Judge of course, then Ingrid, Egon, Mullins and Honey. Egon, for instance, conjures up a vulgar and weasel-like appearance in my mind, whereas Ingrid I imagine to be arrogant yet caring. Whether you like or hate the characters, you find yourself wanting something for all of them, justice, freedom, or even to just hurry up and die!
The story is being told from the perspectives of Seyss and Judge more than anyone else. There are passages where Seyss is facing some sort of obstacle, and uncomfortably I must admit that I find myself hoping he gets through it then wondering why because he is such a horrible man and is going to do something evil and tragic. Somehow, as a character he has this cold front, then a principled personality underneath where you find yourself wondering if he could have been a good person. For certain he seems to show a great deal of loyalty to some people, just they are the wrong ones.
Judge on the other hand, is a very emotional character whose principles are there for everyone to see, yet underneath he is never really sure what his aim is. This makes him quite an unpredictable character, in spite of the fact we are told his intentions throughout. He seems to change his views every so often which, if he were on telly, I might have been the one shouting at him!
Structure, language and writing style
The story is written in reasonably long, but manageable chapters. Sometimes the passages do go on a little too long for me and I feel I need a break - as I always do with reading! I often found that even with a bookmark, I'd come back to the page later and still struggle to find where I left off. Definitely it would have been better if the chapters had been separated out a little more, but understandably the book is structured logically and in a way that gives away the right amount of information at the right time.
The language is very straightforward, although there is some random stretching of vocabulary, overall it is quite an easy read. I imagine the experienced reader could get through this book in a few days, but it is probably better to stretch it over a longer period of time so that the suspense lasts.
Reich writes in the third person, so this is quite standard I suppose and it is like this consistently throughout. It doesn't make it any harder to empathise with the main characters, and if anything, what is really frustrating is trying not to get too much on side with Seyss, because in spite of all the horrible things he does, we also hear of some of his thoughts and troubles along the way. I didn't like the feeling I could empathise with someone as horrible as him, and this was actually a bit off-putting after a while, even if it was a clever trick to play on the mind.
There are passages that I felt became a little too descriptive for my liking, but I suppose I don't have much patience these days where I am trying to read as much as possible! If you enjoy reading those sorts of passages and trying to visualise the scenes, this book will accommodate well. However, where there are murders, Reich does go into a lot of gruesome detail and violence has a strong presence in the story. If you have a very vivid imagination but don't like gore, you might find yourself cringing a lot here.
In all I don't regret reading this book, even if it did mean doing so in hiding! The pressure of the tight time constraints against Judge and Seyss and also how dangerous Seyss is meant that once you understood what was to happen it was tense from there on. So actually, this is quite an exciting story and one that I could easily picture as a film even. Although it could have been broken down better and I didn't always like the way we get so close to Seyss, I can understand why the book was written in this way.