The Fugitive

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Categories: Classic Literature
Publisher: RosettaBooks | Date published: 08/05/2002


In Robert L. Fish's Edgar Award-winning novel, The Fugitive, the protagonist Ari Schoenberg doesn't seem like much of a hero. Paunchy and short with a heart condition and a bad case of nerves, he doesn't seem all that well suited for a high-stakes cloak-and-dagger mission in South America. Ari, however, is a Holocaust survivor and a man with a sense of deep, abiding purpose, and, as such, he rises to the occasion. The Nazi party seems to be rising again in Brazil, led by a ruthless man named Erich von Roesler. Von Roesler fled Germany and then Europe after the Allies routed the Nazis; in hiding, he begins his secret campaign to rebuild in Sao Paulo. Ari, disguised as a Nazi propagandist named Hans Busch, seeks to get inside and stop Von Roesler and his cronies. The infiltration of the Nazi network is done with the support of Interpol officer Jose Da Silva (a character featured in several of Fish's later novels), but the outcome of the mission ultimately depends on Ari, on his intelligence, his cunning and his nerve. This is just one of the many intended ironies of this novel as Ari, the unlikely hero whose shortcomings are in plain view, turns out to be more than a match for Erick Von Roesler and his entire network of supposed supermen. Another is that Ari can pass himself off so convincingly as a Nazi to the Nazis. The men whose guiding principle involves the strict differentiation of races cannot differentiate a Nazi leader from a Jew when he is standing right in front of them, trying to pass himself off as the future of their party. His very presence in their circle makes a mockery of their ideology. What is unclear, in fact, is how serious of a threat they really are. Although they are animated by utterly evil notions, the Brazilian Nazis also seem disorganized, incompetent and more than a little crazy. Fish balances the sense of the real threat posed by this group with the notion that they are just disordered enough to fall for Ari's back-breaking trick. The motivation for Ari's mission is twofold: to kill a movement while it is still in its embryonic form, before it can grow into a real danger, and to refuse these war criminals their safe haven, their escape from justice. The Fugitive is a most unusual spy novel, one that blends history, suspense and post-war politics and sends into this mix an unusual hero looking to confront the ghosts of the past. It is Fish's first and finest work, expressive of his unique imaginative capabilities and capacious sympathy.