Tag Archives: literary thrillers

The Monday Book: Istanbul Passage by Joseph Karon

We apologize for recent glitches in the blog timing. We were experimenting with presetting, and it’s not been going well. We’re going back to manual settings and will be good for Monday, Wednesday and Friday regular blogs henceforth. Technology wins again…. :] and now, Jack’s review of ISTANBUL PASSAGE
I’m a sucker for spy novels, and Wendy and I recently spent two weeks in Istanbul, so this screamed at me when it came into the shop.
I wasn’t disappointed!
Karon is often compared to Le Carre and Greene and my first observation to Wendy was “this is a cross between ‘The Third Man’ and ‘Smiley’s People’”.
The plot is both dense and enthralling – I was continually sucked in and drawn along. To begin with I was confused (actually, after finishing the book I had to go back and re-read the first few chapters). Wendy and I had not only visited Istanbul, but also Romania (not to mention Rumania and Roumania), so all the settings meant a great deal to me. Did being familiar with the places make the book more meaningful? I really don’t know!
Having said that, I definitely got an extra jolt from knowing the settings of the story.
Briefly this is a tale set in Istanbul just after the 2nd World War and as the Cold War is getting going. I had either forgotten or never realized that Turkey was neutral during that war. It was, therefore, one of those strange places like Switzerland and Portugal where the spies, diplomats or black-marketeers could mingle and play out their dramas. One of the main characters is an American businessman who’s become a ‘semi-detached’ spy and another is a Romanian double-agent. In the end the story ends up being about their relationship as much as anything else.
The descriptions of Istanbul rang very true. The book is set in 1946, but all the descriptions of streets and landmarks are just familiar enough to take me back there. Not just that, but the atmosphere as well!
When Wendy and I were flying home from Istanbul after our 15th anniversary vacation last year, one of the movies on the plane was the latest James Bond, which started with a scene in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar – we’d just been there and one of the settings in Karon’s book is also there. Not just that, but Wendy had almost been pick-pocketed there as well.
In the end the book is about choices. Who you owe most to and where your loyalties lie.
There’s an interesting interview with Karon at the end of the edition we have where he says that the best spy novels are not about spying but more about moral dilemmas. I wonder whether all the best books, no matter what the genre, are about those?

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The Monday Book: THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTERS by Randy Susan Meyers

daughtersThis book came into the bookstore randomly this past fall, and one night in a lighthearted “what will I read next” ramble, I pulled it from the bookshelf …

… and lost my weekend. Murder’s Daughters is one of those “don’t get up” books where your life partner is going to need to bring you sandwiches. (S/he will if you promise to do the same when it’s his or her turn to read the book.) The plot moves pretty quickly for being as psychology-driven as it is, something I really enjoyed. I like analytical books, but they can drag. This one did not. What’s going to happen next was always on my mind as I carried it into the bathroom, read it at the kitchen table, ignored customers in the bookstore the first time they said hello.

The premise is straightforward: a man loses control and kills his wife, but the only reason he’s able to is that one of his two daughters–a mere child–opens the door for him. Everything else in the dysfunction junction tale that follows stems from that moment. And there are some lovely human psychology moments. How the girls get out of the children’s home they get stuck in –because their blood family doesn’t step up to the plate–is so compelling and so true to humanity that I cried.

The ways in which the two girls so differently handle their subsequent relationship with their father is interesting, but more compelling to me was the depiction of their growing up years in a group home, and how they related to each other by in turns being maternal and manipulative. The girls are well-drawn characters. Great characters drive great plots.

Meyers puts the synopsis of the book well on her website (http://www.randysusanmeyers.com/the-murderers-daughters/): “The Murderer’s Daughters is narrated in turn by Merry and Lulu [the daughters]. The book follows the sisters as children, as young women, and as adults, always asking how far forgiveness can stretch, while exploring sibling loyalty, the aftermath of family violence, and the reality of redemption.”

BTW Meyers has links to buy the book on her site. I know y’all will first explore ordering it from your local bookstore, then if needed buy from her Powell’s link; Powell’s is a cool bookstore with excellent business ethics.

On her website you’ll also find links to her new book, The Comfort of Lies. If the characters are as well-drawn as Merry and Lulu, it will be a great read. Clear a weekend.

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