by Joseph Kanon, Atria Books, May 2012
This was a good story but with a little more help to the reader it could have been great.
This mystery is set in post WWII Istanbul. Leon Bauer an American is loosely involved in the tobacco trade and sometimes works for US intelligence. The spotlight is leaving Istanbul, the war is over and where there had been a hotbed of spies for all the warring countries now only a few remain. Most of the action is in smuggling European Jews into Palestine although the Cold War between the US and Russia is beginning. Bauer assists the CIA in these post war activities.. An American intelligence officer asks Bauer to participate in the transfer of a Nazi collaborator, Alexei who is escaping through Istanbul from Russian hands to Washington for a debriefing. The job of picking up this Nazi goes badly wrong and Bauer is placed in the middle of a complex plot unable to determine friend from enemy.
The novel’s title word passage has multiple meanings, not only the passage of the Jews through Istanbul and the problematic passage of the Nazi but also Bauer’s passage as he evaluates his involvement in rescuing persecutors such Alexei. Additionally Alexei is also a character in transition who is surprising in some of his actions.
I thought that the author’s ability to describe the sights and sounds of post war Istanbul was excellent. The maps provided in the inside cover of the book were really an assist to the action in the story. I thought the characters were well developed and in particular Bauer was fully fleshed out as a real person with imperfections as well as principles. The plot was unique and engaging with a terrific ending. While I enjoyed this story I found it a difficult read. The story is told primarily through the conversations of the characters so you are left with only their words to figure out what is going on – no easy task. I found myself often rereading sections. I spent much of the book wondering if I had missed a key element in the plot. I read a lot of spy stories and I have some ability to follow a complex plot but I struggled with this one. This was a good book but with a little more help to the reader it could have been great.
I read a copy of this book borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia.