Crimes of War

Peter Hogg, Author Thomas Dunne Books $22.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-312-26954-8
Vancouver prosecutor Hogg's first novel, winner of the 1999 Robertson Davies/Chapters Prize, pits a downsized Nazi hunter against a former Nazi, both living in obscurity in contemporary Canada. At 33, Ottawa historian Dennis Connor has the thankless job of shutting down a minor government agency responsible for bringing ex-Nazis to justice. For six years, the agency has proven ineffective in pursuing its prey, its key court case falling victim to the ravages of time and bureaucratic infighting. Now only a few employees, empty offices and file boxes full of documents are left. As a parting gesture, Connor sends excerpts from one of the files to its subject, Friedrich Reile, a Winnipeg widower who once served as an SS officer in the Ukraine. Psychologically and emotionally disconnected from his youthful crimes, Reile is propelled by Connor's missives to recall his wartime experiences. In 1941, at the age of 17, he volunteered to translate for the Germans, and soon found himself a member of the Einsatzkommandos, rounding up Ukrainian Jews and helping to shoot and bury them in country ravines. Harsh memories do not end with the war. Reile remembers how colleagues are caught and convicted by the Allies while he escapes with the aid of a nurturing wife, a few lies and the exchange of some useful information, eventually making his way to Winnipeg. Hogg fills his grueling tale with starkly realistic detail, describing the sight, smell and feel of the trucks used to transport victims to their instant graves, and showing how Reile and his fellow soldiers grow numb to their crimes. Connor's largely ineffectual stabs at action make him a disappointing hero, but the novel's real drama resides in the morality tale he uncovers. (Feb. 5)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
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