Wednesday, April 28, 2010

SAS À ISTANBUL [Book Review]

SAS À ISTANBUL is the first in a long-running (165+) series of spy novels featuring a freelance polyglot named Malko Linge. The "SAS" in the title doesn't stand for Special Air Services (the British special forces outfit) like I expected, but "Son Altesse Sérénissime" ("His Serene Highness") because Linge is an Austrian prince. Linge shares a lot of characteristics with James Bond, insofar as they're both portrayed as urbane, highly-intelligent womanizers. The biggest difference seems to me to be that the SAS series (at least judging by this first installment) is intended to be grounded much more in the real world.

Anyway, this first book is set during the Cold War and starts with Linge being recruited by the CIA to investigate the destruction of an American nuclear submarine in the Bosporus. Except for the opening chapter, the story takes place entirely in Istanbul and has all the hallmarks of a classic spy thriller: the hero sleeps around, the Yanks and the Russkies weave dangerous webs for each other, and death is always right around the corner. I used to read a lot of these books when I was a kid, and reading this one brought back a lot of memories to a time when the Soviet Union was seen as a dangerous and cunning foe, but not necessarily one without honor--the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were like two heavyweight fighters trading punches. I imagine most modern spy thrillers involve terrorism or "rogue states" like North Korea, opponents that are certainly to be feared but not to be respected.

According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, these books are pretty popular in France--they've spawned comic books and two movies.

NEXT: Meg Cabot's Missing: Coup de foudre (Lightning Strike)

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