Thursday, June 18, 2009

Assignment Suicide

ASSIGNMENT SUICIDE (Gold Medal, 1956) is Edward S. Aarons' third novel about CIA operative Sam Durell. And like the others in the series that I've read, it's a terrifically tense thriller that, according to Aarons expert Doug Bassett, sets the template for the rest of them.

"All sorts of typical "Assignment" motifs make their first appearance in SUICIDE.  We see a situation where a diverse group of people are thrown together and have to rely on each other to survive, a limited scope of action (despite the exotic locales, the meat of a Durell action sequence happens in a very restricted environment), a beautiful woman who improbably falls in love with Durell after first hating him, Durell engaging in the most straightforward sentimentality after declaring he's a hardass.  Et cetera," says Bassett. Surprisingly, Bassett doesn't consider SUICIDE to be among Aarons' best, but I think it's quite a crackling yarn. I ripped through it in about two hours and change while waiting to be called to sit on a jury.

Durell parachutes into Russia to prevent a mysterious rogue government official—known only as Comrade Z—from firing an ICBM at the United States. The good news is that he's able to hook up with a small group of underground Soviets who also want to prevent the missile launch. The bad news is that they disagree with Durell on how to do it. While the American's plan is to sneak into the U.S. embassy in Moscow and spread the word using the media, which will stop the plot, his underground contact—a beautiful blonde named Valya Hvalna—and her friends plan to assassinate Z just minutes before the projected May Day launch. Both sides want essentially the same result, but are willing to kill the other to protect their own methods.

A great combination of realistic action (no laser battles or megalomaniacal world conquerors here) and colorful writing that describes only as much as necessary to move the story along, ASSIGNMENT SUICIDE is a fun read that comes highly recommended.

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