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.