The author is an specialist of thrillers set in places that were famous after big wars i.e World War I and II, the Crimean War etc.
J. Kanon compounds the fraught postwar mood with a location to match.
Istanbul is the world’s only big city that lies on two continents, and is separated by the Bosphorus that is lined by decaying mansions from times past. The city was a beehive of spies during and after World War II.
In Istanbul the mosques and bazaars are Levantine, steep, winding narrow, and cobbled streets Byzantine, its bars and streetcars are Balkan or central European where they were designed and constructed.
In Istanbul every one watches everyone else, security forces are everywhere, and it is easy to detect foreigners especially Europeans because of the way they look and dress.
Leon Bauer, the main character of the thriller, is an American tobacco merchant and “part time spy” working for the American consulate. He is married to Anna who worked for a Jewish organization that helped Jews to travel to Palestine through legal and illegal means. She is struck with a neurological disease and hospitalized. Leon, although informed by attending doctors the she will never recover, visits her daily.
The author pulls the reader into this “dark world” after a shot kills a Romanian defector who was implicated in the Straulesti massacre of Jews in Romania. Then an American consular employee was murdered, followed by another killing of an American embassy
official in Ankara.
The author knows Istanbul well and describes several neighbourhoods in a very detailed fashion. He also writes about history in a tangential fashion telling the story of Lily who was a Circassian slave especially selected for the sultan’s harem and who was trained in matters of etiquette before being admitted to “service”. She escaped “sex slavery” by coincidence and lives to tell her story. She participates in lavish parties in one of the garish mansions that lines Bosphorus.
Istanbul Passage is educational, and well researched. The setting is exotic and captivating, but the author occasionally switches to staccato bursts, and telegraphic dialogues that become confusing and unintelligible.
This thriller is an engaging, interesting, historical, and well-plotted read.
The reader will be compelled to turn page after page to learn what happens next.