Old news, art,life and Ian Rankin
Online newspapers are forever recycling the news. Anything to fill up space, I suppose. More than once lately I’ve read an interesting story, only to look at the dateline and see that it’s a year old.
So when I read that Hungary was trying a 97-year-old war criminal, I googled the story and learned that Sandor Kepiro was tried, acquitted and died a year ago. So much for breaking news.
I have always been fascinated by the relentless pursuit of WW2 Nazis, something that seemed to me to be unproductive. However, Ian Rankin’s novel THE HANGING GARDEN changed my outlook entirely. That new perception comes in handy when I read about cold cases heating up and criminals on the lam for 40 years being brought into court.
At Bourchercon-Las Vegas (2003) I stood in line to get Rankin’s signature. When my turn came, I opened THE HANGING GARDEN to that particular passage and told him how much I liked it. He read it, seemed pleased (or surprised, hard to tell) by what he had written, and signed that page for me.
In the book, Inspector Rebus tracks a World War II Nazi, now living a quiet, respectable life in the UK. There’s much more to the plot than bringing an old war criminal to justice, but that’s the part that lodged in my mind. Rebus, doubting the wisdom of dogging an old man, takes those doubts to a Holocaust historian named Levy. Levy tells him:
“The question you’ve no doubt been pondering is the same one I’ve asked myself on occasions: can time wash away responsibility? For me, the answer would have to be no. The thing is this, Inspector … You are not investigating the crimes of an old man, but those of a young man who now happens to be old. Focus your mind on that. There have been investigations before, half-hearted affairs. Governments wait for these men to die rather than have to try them. But each investigation is an act of remembrance, and remembrance is never wasted. Remembrance is the only way we learn.”
There’s also something to be said for newspaper archives. Rankin was awarded an OBE in 2002 and there’s an interesting article, with a photo of Rankin holding up the medal, still available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/2347071.stm.