Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Istanbul Passage

Joseph Kanon
Istanbul Passage

Atria Books, 2012

World War II is over. In Turkey, which was neutral during the war, several spy organizations worked undercover, but their time has passed, and the staffs are gradually withdrawing their people home. Leon Bauer is a middle-aged American who was not a spy, but was engaged in business in Istanbul, doing some errands for the local residents of American intelligence, helping, without attracting attention, to ship the right people in the right places. Leon's wife Anna during the war was traumatized and has lost her mind, shutting in, and now she is kept in the clinic. Leon constantly visits his wife talking to her (the doctor advised, considering that it can help), and on Thursdays he visits Turkish prostitute Marina.

Tommy King, head of the local residency, working as a businessman, asks Leon to meet him to to discuss Leon’s last job. Tommy himself is recalled to Washington, where he will take good place in the headquarters of intelligence. Tommy promises that things will be simple: Leon’d need only meet one man at night on the dock, take himto a safe place for a day or two until the aircraft is prepared and then delivers a man to the airport. Leon has repeatedly done something like that, and he accepts the job.

The following night Leon and his Romanian friend Mihai waits in the car for the arrival of the boat. Mihai often helps in such cases to Leon, but Leon never told Tommy that he used help. When a person is brought in, Leon sends a man to the car, taking the bag from the fisherman, and promising that the fisherman will soon be paid. Suddenly, someone starts to shoot at Leon and Mihai. Friends fire back, and later by the scream and the sound of a falling body Leon figures that he killed the assailant. Slightly wounded Mihai drives to his place, and Leon with a stranger at first get rid of possible surveillance. Leon leaves Alexei at the apartment, promising that he would find ways to safely take Alexei out of the country.

«Istanbul Passage» combines the two sub-genres, spy novel and "the average person in extreme circumstances." The mixture turned out a really explosive, Kanon chose the correct proportions.

The author aptly chose the time and place. On the one hand, the war is over, but it ended just like yesterday, and the atmosphere is more tense between all countries (the book only lacks some nasty Nazies). On the other hand, the place is also non-standard choice, you do not often see a book about spies from that region.

All attributes of a decent spy novel are on the spot. There are residents, and agents, and fake passports, betrayals, loneliness of a spy - all very colorful. But at the same time, Leon is far from an ordinary spy, or rather he is not a spy at all. He is a businessman, an ordinary man who helped people during the war, and his wife organized the removal of the Jews, helping the embassy. He knows how to hide a person and get away from tale, but that's it. He does not run and shoot like Bond and Bourne, and has no experience and position as Smiley. He does not rely on anyone, he knows a small number of friends and has no relationship with Washington. And when Leon is embroiled in a dangerous intrigue, he behaves like a little man. He panics, he seeks a way out. He does not care about the honor of the country or protects the interests of the state. He is concerned about people, not the country.

Leon also here not only acts like an ordinary man caught in a big trouble, but also as a tragic figure. He still loves his sick (I think, forever sick) wife, he becomes the victim of betrayal of a close friend, a man whom Leon trusted. He is a man of honor at a time when the war seems to have consumed the whole honor from the people.

The novel is very intense, entertaining, written with love to a man and contempt for the public edifice. As with any good spy novel, about a third or even half of the spy intrigue remains unclear, but it should be so. For a person who is far from the intelligence it’s hard to understand the essence of all things hidden.

Probably in a few years «Istanbul Passage» will make a list of classic espionage books. It deserves it.

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