Monday, July 13, 2009

Passport To Peril

To me the four big names in espionage fiction are John Buchan, Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and John le Carre. Each changed the form profoundly. Passport To Peril, the latest book from Hard Case Crime, was first published in 1950 and contains set-pieces borrowed not only from Buchan and Ambler but also Alfred Hitchcock. The only influence I don't see here is Greene. In some respects it's a compendium of espionage tropes that filled spy novels from the time of Buchan all the way up to the Cold War, which this novel is very much about. And it's the familiarity that makes this fun.

The name of the author is Robert B. Parker. No, this Parker hero doesn't lift weights or crack wise or have a Susan Silverman. This Parker's middle name is Bogardus not Brown, which is the middle name of the more prominent Parker.

Here is the basic story: The narrator, a man named John Stodder, is traveling to Budapest on the Orient Express. He purchased the forged passport he has to help him get into the city where he hopes to find his missing brother. A mysterious beautiful young woman appears. She is frantic with fear. At first he doesn't believe her that somebody is trying to kill her but a peculiar German man shows himself and Stodder, whose passport ironically belonged to the man the German killed, is now in the center of it all. He and the beautiful mysterious woman jump off the train and hide in the bitter winter night that is patroled everywhere by heavily armed Russian soldiers.

Passport To Peril has more hooks, twists and red herrings than any novel I've read in recent memory. Same with chapter ending cliff hangers. Part of the fun of reading it--and it's a blast--is its depiction of life after WW ll in the adventure fiction of the time. We meet Commies, countesses, sadistic guards, Germans who mean to bring back the Reich, the whole sick crew. If the book moved any faster it would rip free of its covers and take flight.

I can't attest to the authenticity of espionage depicted here. But Brown is so skilled he makes it feel real and that's all that matters.

Well worth your money. An enjoyable night's reading.

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