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Istanbul Passage: A Novel Hardcover – May 29, 2012

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Constant Fear
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Constant Fear "firmly places [author] Palmer alongside the likes of Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner." — The Providence Journal

Editorial Reviews


“A fast-moving, thinking man’s thriller. . . tense and atmospheric [with] sinister intrigue.” (The Wall Street Journal)

"Istanbul Passage is a first-rate espionage novel, filled with complexity and thrills, but its greatest success may be in this much more universal literary exploration: how an ordinary man is transformed by extraordinary circumstances." (Chris Pavone, New York Times bestselling author of The Expats, in Publishers Weekly)

"Istanbul Passage bristles with authenticity. Joseph Kanon has a unique and admirable talent: he brilliantly marries suspense and historical fact, wrapping them around a core of pure human drama, while making it seem effortless. This isn't just talent; it's magic.” (Olen Steinhauer, New York Times bestselling author of The Tourist)

"With dialogue that can go off like gunfire and a streak of nostalgia that feels timeless, this book takes its place among espionage novels as an instant classic."
--Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

“A masterful work that is as gripping as it is intelligent.” (The Daily Beast)

“Kanon delivers a satisfying atmospheric thriller.” (Entertainment Weekly)

"Superbly crafted… A beautifully conceived and atmospheric thriller; highly recommended." (Library Journal (Starred Review))

"Reminiscent of the works of Graham Greene." (Alexander McCall Smith)

About the Author

Joseph Kanon is the author of five other novels, Los Alamos, The Prodigal Spy, The Good German, Alibi, and Stardust. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a book publishing executive. He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; First Edition edition (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781439156414
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439156414
  • ASIN: 1439156417
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (359 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #219,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A brilliant editor told me that the best time to start reporting a big story is after everyone else is finished. The parade of media leaves town, and the people you want to talk to have plenty of time. With nothing much at stake, you get the real story.

I'm guessing that was one of the attractions of Istanbul, circa late 1945, for Joseph Kanon. The war was over, the big league spies had departed, and the only sustained action was the effort to smuggle European Jews into Palestine. A visitor could almost buy the fantasy: "In Istanbul's dream of itself it was always summer, ladies eating sherbets in garden pavilions, caiques floating by. The city shivered through winters with braziers and sweaters, somehow surprised that it had turned cold at all."

"Istanbul Passage" is billed as a thriller, in the way that the novels of Graham Greene and Alan Furst are thrillers. That is, there are guns, and they are used. But the book is also about values and codes and honor, the kind of big questions that get asked in great movies like "Casablanca" and aren't asked nearly enough in contemporary stories.

For Leon Bauer, an American vaguely involved in the tobacco trade but also an occasional tool of the American consulate's less diplomatic activities, it comes down to this: "What do you do when there's no right thing to do. Just the wrong thing. Either way."

That question makes the book's title a pun. The "passage" isn't just about Jews or, more urgently, a former Nazi collaborator who is being smuggled through Istanbul on his way to a debriefing in Washington. It's equally about Leon Bauer's moral passage. As in: You give your word to perform a service. Along the way, you learn a few things, none of them savory. Do you walk? Is your word your bond?
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192 of 209 people found the following review helpful By Max Read on June 15, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Joseph Kanon is the author of six novels including, Los Alamos, which won the Edgar Award for best first novel; The Good German, which was made into a film starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett; The Prodigal Spy and Alibi, which earned Kanon the Hammett Award of the International Association of Crime Writers;and Istanbul Passage, his latest novel. Before becoming a full-time writer, he was a book publishing executive. Kanon was last reported to live in New York City with his wife, literary agent Robin Straus, and their two sons.

It was the end of World War II. The Americans and the Russians are vying for dominance in what will become known later as the "Cold War" an era of mistrust; the war is over, everyone is packing up to leave Istanbul. The American's clandestine operation was conducted from the American Consul. It was engaged in disrupting German war supply efforts through the guise of operatives in legitimate businesses like R.J. Reynolds, Commercial Corp and Western Electric. There were others too, humanitarians, passionate for the repatriation of the Jewish refugees with Palestine; clandestine operations that provided illegal passage for them through sea ports on the Bosporus. As the story opens, Leon Bauer and his friend Mihai are proceeding to the sea port for a clandestine pickup of a German. It was arranged by Leon's friend and sometime employer, Tommy, who worked at the American Consul. It was a simple job, pick the German up whisk him away to a safe place and protect him until he is transported out of Turkey by the Americans. That was the plan but not everyone saw the same ending. Leon intercepts the German at the landing; suddenly gun fire erupts, the fire is returned and a dead man is left by the road side above.
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth C. Mahieu on June 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joseph Kanon's "Istanbul Passage" is a terrific book, 5 stars. It's filled with characters who will stay with you for a long time, an interesting story that slowly pulls you in and becomes more and more complex, excellently interwoven sub-plots that greatly enrich the main story, and tons and tons of atmosphere. And romance and sex.

It's in the early days of post-WWll and Leon, an American "businessman" is asked by his local Consulate boss to meet an unidentified man arriving late at night via fishing boat. And a simple pick-up is suddenly not so simple. Now there's a dead body, and the police are asking embarrassing questions. As is the national security agency, Emniyet. And there are the Russians. And before long you realize you are reading a winner.

Leon has his personal problems as well. His beloved wife is convalescing in a local clinic and has not been responsive for months. He secretly meets with Marina every Thursday afternoon, and then there's Kay, wife of his new boss.

Leon knows Istanbul, its history, landmarks and alleys. And he is very resourceful. So while he is not a full-time agent, much less a spy, he soon is engaged with a couple of them, and learns quickly. But what he is not prepared for are the choices, particularly when all the options are bad ones.

I have read a lot of spy fiction over the years and I haven't read anything better than "Istanbul Passage" since Le Carre's stuff in the early and mid 60's. Enjoy !
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Masters on September 23, 2013
Format: Paperback
This novel reminds me very much of LeCarre's "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold." It has a solid realistic feel to it, both in terms of the environment and the characters. His writing places you in Istanbul after the war, and the characters feel real because they are so highly developed.

However, be aware that this is far from an uplifting novel. It is relentlessly dark, with no happy resolutions to problems, minor or major. Even the main character's several romantic encounters have a dark, cold feel to them. It took me several months to finish this novel, highly unusual for me, simply because I never felt a drive to plunge back in. I knew that after reading a chapter I would go away feeling depressed at his dismal world. I forced myself to finish it.

Also know that it is quite complex, with few things handed to the reader on a platter. This is very much a thinking person's novel, not easy beach reading. The author leaves it to the reader to put together numerous crucial puzzle pieces, and the unfortunate part is that some of these 'solutions' are crucial to understanding the novel. Many times I just gave up trying to figure out what a line of cryptic dialog meant, and read on, hopeful that it would eventually become clear.

Finally, I disagree with those reviewers who consider this to be a fast-paced thriller. Not compared to the thrillers that I normally read! For me, this novel plodded along, with few and short truly exciting parts. It was mostly the main character slogging through a bunch of moral ambiguities.

In summary, if you appreciate intelligent writing, and if you love deep, believable characterization, this novel is for you. But if you are looking for a novel that you can read in a hammock with a beer, forget it. If you want a novel that will leave you feeling good, forget it. And if you want a white-knuckle page-ripping thriller, pass.
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