As a setting for crime fiction, Istanbul offers a peerless set of ingredients: exotic beauty, a long and complex history, a charged location where Europe and Asia dissolve into each other. Also, thanks to its neutrality, the city became a crossroads of espionage during World War II. British writers such as Eric Ambler (“Journey Into Fear”) and Graham Greene (“Stamboul Train”) have shrewdly exploited these features. In his new thriller, “Istanbul Passage,” the American writer Joseph Kanon joins their company.
The action takes place in late 1945, with the war over and the city reverting to normal even as old habits die hard. Leon Bauer, an American businessman, dabbled in cloak-and-dagger stuff during the war, and his handlers have persuaded him to take on one last job: Help a Romanian refugee into the city and then out again when safe transportation can be arranged. Late at night, Bauer slips down to the Bosporus, as directed, where a boat lands the fugitive. Shots are fired. Bauer shoots back and scores a hit. After stashing the newcomer in a temporary safe house, Bauer goes to work as usual the next day. Only then does he learn whom he shot — and killed: Tommy, the American consulate officer who gave him the assignment. This double-cross overshadows the rest of the novel.