cover image The Runner

The Runner

Christopher Reich. Delacorte Press, $26.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33366-5

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.)