Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
”You’re so sure somebody’s watching.”
The curtains twitch.
The doorways have eyes.
Nothing happens in Istanbul without someone seeing it. Anything clandestine has to be hidden behind layers of misdirection. There are eyes everywhere in a city of people who know the value of information. World War II has recently ended, but the next war, the Cold War, is already beginning in Istanbul. The Americans, the British, the Israelis, and the Russians are all vying for the last remaining valuable targets out of Germany. Some of them are brought through Istanbul’s harbor.
Leon Bauer is an American civilian who occasionally does jobs for the American government. It is supposed to be a simple job, a pickup and delivery of a person of interest. It turns out to be anything but simple. Shots are fired the moment Bauer makes contact with his person for extraction. He returns fire and hits the person shooting. Later, he finds out that person had been the very person who asked him to go on this job.
Trying to make sense of that forms a Gordian Knot in his mind.
Nobody is supposed to know he has this guy, and yet it seems it is fairly common knowledge. The Russians are very interested and are willing to offer a reward for this person to fall into their hands. The Americans want to know why their guy is dead. The Israelis, if they knew about this particular German, would want him wearing a toe tag. Needless to say, Leon is in way over his head, and as he finds out more about the guy he is protecting, he starts to question why he should continue to protect such a man capable of such atrocities.
And yet he does for reasons even he can’t fully understand.
There is a background story about his wife, Anna, who had a psychotic break and has been institutionalized. She is unresponsive, but he continues to go see her as often as he can, except on Thursday afternoons when he goes to see Marina.
”’I haven’t been with anyone today. All right?’ She put her hand on his crotch, rubbing him. ‘I always save today for you. You know that.’ Stroking him, the lie like another hand on him, so that he was hard instantly, excited by both, unable to separate them.”
It is the business of whores to lie and for men to believe them. Leon feels guilty that he visits Marina, but as he climbs the stairs to her place, he starts to feel his knees go weak and the butterflies begin to circle in his stomach. It doesn’t matter if he needs it, if he desires it. He has to accept the guilt. He feels even worse when he meets Kay, the wife of one of his colleagues, and sparks fly as if Vulcan started shaping a new sword on his anvil.
Joseph Kanon takes us into the twisting back alleys of Istanbul and into the plush dinner parties of the ex-pats. Leon finds himself playing hide and seek with the most powerful people in Istanbul with no way to know who to trust or even who is on which side from moment to moment. Now that the war is over, the tenuous alliances formed during the war are starting to erode, and a new kind of conflict is just beginning to blossom. On the surface, things are calm in Istanbul, but just like the Bosphorus, beneath the surface things are seething with activity.
It has been a while since I’ve read Kanon, but I have to say I really enjoyed this mature, intelligent tale of spies and counterspies. It turned out to be a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
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