A review of Istanbul Passage, by Joseph Kanon
@@@@ (4 out of 5)
Some books build slowly, and just as you begin to wonder whether you have the energy to finish them, you discover you’re a captive and no longer able to put them aside. Then they build and build, until you find yourself on the last page, out of breath from the frenzied rush to the end. Istanbul Passage is one of those books.
Kanon, born in 1946, writes spy stories about the period immediately following World War II and before the Korean War (1945-50). Istanbul Passage relates the tale of Leon Bauer, an American businessman whose poor eyesight had kept him out of the war. In compensation — seeking his own war, really — Leon has persuaded a friend of his in the U.S. consulate to hire him for special espionage assignments, helping smuggle Jews out of Romania and on to Palestine. Now, in 1945, Leon receives a different sort of assignment, which involves helping to smuggle a high-value Romanian intelligence target through Istanbul and on to safety in the U.S. But everything quickly goes wrong. Leon finds himself shooting a man to death in a firefight, and the Romanian turns out to be a war criminal at least partly responsible for one of the most notorious massacres of Jews outside the German camps.
Istanbul Passage is a complex and finely written tale. You can’t read the book without getting to know Leon Bauer — and Istanbul — as deeply as though you had experienced the story yourself. Joseph Kanon is one fine writer!
Kanon ran two major New York publishing houses before he began writing in 1995 when he was nearly 50. His five previous novels — Los Alamos (1997), The Prodigal Spy (1998), The Good German (2001), Alibi (2005), and Stardust (2009) — have won widespread acclaim, and deservedly so, as I’ve noted in my reviews. (To see those reviews, click on the titles of his last two previous books.)