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Literature / Istanbul Intrigues

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"Istanbul was a neutral city where enemies fighting to the death sat table to table in elegant restaurants listening to Gypsy orchestras. It was a city where a German and an American intelligence agent fell in love with the same Hungarian singer. Those who had barely escaped from lands of bombed-out buildings, shortages, and fear came to a place of bounteous peace. For people daily risking their lives elsewhere, as one of them put it, the most urgent question in Istanbul might be the waiter's query, 'Do you prefer red wine or champagne with your dinner?'"

A history of espionage in Istanbul and the surrounding area during World War II, written by Barry Rubin. It is a better read then most Spy Fiction, and contains a large amount of stories. All of these are true as far as the author can tell (for obvious reasons, this kind of story generally supposes some leeway).The book shows how Turkey remained neutral by convincing everyone of its sympathies. However, its strategic location ensured that every faction had an interest here. Spies clash in both posh hallways and in seedy alleyways. Meanwhile, the war rages all around, leaving Turkey an island of safety.From there the Allies mount secret operations in the Balkans; the Germans mount ops in the Middle East; the Russians and Germans struggle for influence; lesser powers carry out their own intrigues and everyone tries (in a suitably Byzantine way) to find out and outwit each others' schemes. Meanwhile, the Turks watch over the whole thing to keep it from getting out of hand.The book is written in what the Spy Fiction trope would call a stale-martini fashion with evocative descriptions of the life in Istanbul during the war. The combination makes the book much like a film. It is well worth your read.

It is available in both hardback and paperback at Amazon.

This work includes the following Tropes:

  • Always Gets His Man: Turkish security, called the Emniyet. Don't ever cross them.
  • The Alliance: The Allies
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: German Ambassador Von Papen. When an attempt is made on his life, the Emniyet is temporarily perplexed because anyone might have wanted to kill him.
    • More specifically, he had a dangerous combination of taste for intrigue with an overestimation of his skill in such matters. He had already been declared Persona Non Grata twice in his career for meddling in a host country's internal affairs. The Nazis might have killed him because He Was Outliving His Usefulness and was more then a bit of a Starscream; the anti-Nazi German exiles might have done so because they blamed him for Hitler's rise. The Jews might have done so for Revenge, as might any resistance group, and though unlikely the Allies might have done so for strategic reasons if he became annoying enough to make them ignore Diplomatic Impunity and von Papen was just the sort to do things like that. As it happened it was the Russians apparently wishing for a rift between Germany and Turkey.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Betty Carp, the OSS secretary
  • Badass Family : The Whittall family were old Middle-Eastern hands, and provided a number of agents for British intelligence.
  • Badass Israeli: The Zionists
  • Ban on Politics : At every Romanian Cafe there was a sign that said, "Discussion of politics is prohibited." This included the cafes most frequented by spies, so of course that prohibition had rather limited effect.
  • Fancy Dinner: A number of these are given for diplomats. Another kind of battlefield in a way, but somewhat more pleasant.
  • Bitter Sweet Ending: For the Poles and the Czechs who were some of the Allies best agents and ended the war seeing a victory for others but their own countries occupied.
  • The Butler Did It: The British Ambassador's Valet, code named Cicero by the Germans.
  • The Chessmaster: Everyone wants to be this, naturally enough. Turkish prime Minister Ismet Inonu is one of the best.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Several agents have this.
  • City of Spies
  • The City Narrows: The alley ways of Istanbul.
  • Combat Referee : The Emniyet served as this.
  • Defector from Decadence: Deconstructed. It is noted how many of these are found in 1945.
    • The attempt on von Papen's life is revealed to be done by a Muslim from the Soviet Union who then settles in Turkey.
    • The Hungarians attempted to become this on a national level. The Germans arrived first.
  • Diplomatic Impunity : Every embassy conducted espionage as a side business. The Turks didn't mind as long as they didn't make a mess and spied primarily on each other.
  • Dirty Communists: The Russians
  • The Don: Andre Gyorgy, the best smuggler in the Balkans. Everyone availed themselves of his services, on all sides.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: One female Zionist agent bought a large number of condoms in which to smuggle messages to refugees. Most people of course assumed it was for another purpose which was not good for her reputation.
  • Femme Fatale: German agent Wilhemina Vargasy
  • Gambit Pileup: At the end the author gives a list of thirteen separate spy agencies, and the code words for about two dozen ops and individual agents.
  • Good-Guy Bar: The famous high-class restaurant Karpics. Both good guys and bad guys went there.
  • Good Shepherd : Roncalli, later known as Pope John XXIII who befriended fleeing Jews.
  • Government in Exile
  • Honor Before Reason: The Turks punish the attempted assassins of von Papen despite the Russians bullying. No Russian is going to tell them what to do.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Istanbul was a good place to find these.
  • Large Ham : George Earle the American diplomat and would be spy who seemed to think he was in a movie.
    • Lanning Macfarland, Chief of Station for OSS-Istanbul, who actually went around in a trenchcoat.
  • La RĂ©sistance
  • Manipulative Bastard: Cicero
  • Merchant City: The Grand Bazaar
  • Noble Fugitive : White Russians, Anti-Nazi Germans.
  • Overt Operative: George Earle. He was so flamboyant that the OSS cut off contact with him and used him as a diversion.
  • Practical Joke : On hearing of a meeting at a restaurant in which a high ranking German was to speak, the British abducted the doorman and put a replacement of their own in who told all the guests that the meeting was canceled. When the speaker arrived he found the place empty.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman : British ambassador Knatchbull-Hughsson
  • Recycled In Space: Not in the sense of a deliberate attempt by the author. However Istanbul Intrigues, by coincidence, has a weird resemblance to Babylon 5.
  • Schizo Tech : The British and Americans hire Aegean "caiques"(fishing boats) to smuggle arms to partisans. They use a design that is hundreds of years old, but is adequate for their purpose.
  • Screw the War, We're Partying: Rich people in the Balkans before the Germans arrive. Not really much else they could do about it.
  • Secret Police: The Gestapo and the NKVD
  • Secret War
  • The Spymaster: Lots
  • Stone Wall: Zig-Zagged. Turkey has a large and very pugnacious population in tough terrain which discourages invaders. At the same time in İstanbul itself the authorities are terrified, knowing that their city is ill-defended and full of extremely flamable buildings, and generally vulnerable to Death from Above.
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Treasure Room : The office of the SOE had a large vault full of British gold coins to be used in nefarious enterprises in which paper money just wouldn't do. One British agent called it "the stable" because each coin was stamped with a picture of a mounted St George. The money was referred to as "Britain's cavalry".
  • Truce Zone
  • Unreliable Narrator: The book was compiled by interviewing retired spies. The writer seems to have done his best, but ultimately you have to live with that.
  • War Is Glorious: If you get to spend World War II eating Fancy Dinners at Istanbul and making schemes.
  • War Is Hell: If you spend World War II not eating Fancy Dinners at Istanbul.