Frankly, in this age of cyberspace the business of spying isn’t what it used to be. While it may be relevant, who wants to read about computer hackers? Give me the old-fashioned under-cover, cat-and-mouse game of espionage among dark streets — and sometimes glamour — of European and Russian locales when the heroes were not armed with cell phones and other electronics. Full of atmosphere and period detail, Joseph Kanon’s “Istanbul Passage” takes place in 1945 and there’s nary a cell phone to be had.
Even the title is intriguing and conjures up rich images of this ancient Ottoman city straddling Europe and Asia. The Turkish city remained neutral in World War II and was a hotbed of spies and strange alliances. The setting for this book is the end of the war. Leon Bauer, an expatriate living in Istanbul as a representative of an American tobacco company, helped the war effort by performing simple errands for the U.S. Consulate. When he is asked to help deliver a Romanian defector with valuable intelligence about Russian armaments to U.S. agents, Bauer is unaware he will be thrust deep into the espionage community where his life will be upended.
Kanon, the author of The Good German, Los Alamos, and Stardust, blends in the history of Romania, the resettlement of Jewish refugees, a suspected mole in the American embassy, and his wife Anna’s (she’s Jewish) involvement with relocating Romanian victims to Palestine. Bauer struggles with moral issues, the goal of the mission and his own fear during a time that became the dawn of the Cold War.
“The novel uses the background of social life in Istanbul’s ex-pat community as a canvass to portray the undercurrent of espionage woven into the city’s tapestry and the efforts of Americans, Russians and Turks to capture Alexei (the Romanian defector),” writes Jim Farrington of the North Carolina Star Herald. “This is a great book for your summer reading list.”
Kanon’s historical fiction is being favorably compared to that of English author Graham Greene. The Boston Globe refers to Kanon as the “heir apparent” to Greene and commends the way Kanon flawlessly blends fact and fiction into a haunting thriller.