Espionage novels are difficult to write post 9/11 since the reader needs to empathize with the bad guy at least a little. How to do that with a terrorist who is willing to blow himself up! So many of our best writers in the sub-genre, Espionage Thrillers, are opting to give us historical spy novels –Joseph Kanon’s Istanbul Passage (2012) is an intelligent and complicated novel set in 1945 in exotic Turkey. Because of its neutrality during the war, it became a haven for espionage during and after WWII. Here we find thoughtful questions of morality, betrayal and honor, European Jews trying to smuggle through Turkey into Palestine and spies on every corner. All reminiscent of Graham Green. No small compliment.
I began reading Kanon with his first novel Los Alamos in 1997 – and have been a big fan ever since. You can start with any of his seven books, as they are all stand-alones. Kanon has a wonderful touch with setting, giving us the smell and feel of a place as you read. If you like history, Kanon will thrill you with accurate moments and descriptions. In Istanbul Passage the atmosphere is its own character.
This novel has everything I want – reliable history, characters I care about, a strong setting and a plot which intrigues me. Bravo, Joseph Kanon! My rating –5 of 5 stars.
I was eager to read the Maine Game Warden mysteries by Paul Doiron, as I am a long-time fan of Nevada Barr and somewhat of a fan of CJ Box. I didn’t get around to the series until his 6th – The Precipice (2015), but I am happy I did so. While not quite as enjoyable as Barr’s Anna Pigeon, who travels from National Park to National Park and has a long and complex character arc, Doiron’s Mike Bowditch is young and naive and almost as compelling. If only to watch his mistakes.
The plot is simple –two female hikers disappear in the Hundred Mile Wilderness-the most remote stretch along the entire Appalachian Trail. Mike Bowditch joins the desperate search to find them. Hope turns to despair after two unidentified corpses are discovered at the base of the precipice, their bones picked clean by coyotes. Do the bodies belong to the missing hikers? Did the increasingly aggressive coyotes kill them? Or were they murdered and tossed off the cliff?
The outdoor hiker/nature lover descriptions are great for those who do love the trails. And the plot is just good enough to keep the reader going. I find it a closer read to CJ Box than Nevada Barr; perhaps that is due to the male main characters and the game warden roles (Box writes about a Wyoming Game Warden). Barr does better with characters than Box or Doiron.
I probably will go back now and read the first in the Bowditch series – The Poacher’s Son (2010), which won the Barry and was nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony and a Macavity for best first novel. That is a lot of praise! But for this book, my rating – 3 ½ of 5 stars.