Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Trouble with Blonde Ice

Assignment - Stella Marni is the fourth entry in the long running spy novel series featuring CIA agent Sam Durell, and the first one in the series I've read. Over the years I've run across many of these Edward S. Aarons novels in used bookstores without ever giving one a chance.

Assignment - Stella Marni, 1957 Fawcett Publications, Inc.
I'm not sure why it took me so long to read a Sam Durell novel, but am glad I finally did. I wanted to go with an early one to get a feel for the character at the outset of a series, and typically like the 1950's settings with these older novels. Plus, I liked the cover for this one a lot. Who wouldn't? One look at this beauty and you know that trouble is right around the corner.

The novel is really more of a mystery disguised as a Cold War caper. Someone has been forcing Eastern European refugees to renounce their new way of life in America for safe return to their home country, in this case, Hungary. This is cause for a big time fail for the American propaganda machine, not to mention an embarrassment to the cause, but not exactly James Bond stuff to make a reader pant with anticipation. Hence, the blonde babe on the cover.

The novel begins with Sam Durell asked by a fellow CIA operative Art Greenwald to look into the background of Stella Marni, the latest person wishing to publicly renounce her citizenship and return to her homeland. It seems Art's brother, Frank Greenwald, has flipped head over heels for Stella and may be throwing his life away for a poisoned apple. Durell agrees to investigate Stella, knowing that he's out of his jurisdiction and authority to do so. It quickly turns out that Art's misgivings about Stella is right. In short order, Frank is found brutally murdered. Art is also attacked and left barely clinging to life, while Stella has disappeared along with rogue FBI agent Harry Blossom, who has apparently gone native in his obsession for Stella. Durell soon learns the hard way that anyone who steps into Stella's web ends up in a bad way.

It's clear that Aarons knew how to the keep the pace brisk, and the action tight. There's plenty of action and gore along with liberal doses of sexual obsession and deadly games. Things did not spin wildly out of control as sometimes they do in spy capers, nor is one's suspension of disbelief too sorely tested. There are moments here and there that the novel shows its age, but that comes with the territory. So, all in all, it looks like I've found a new series to get into with this one.

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