Thursday, February 3, 2011
Passport to Peril : Original RBP
Wait, what? Oh, Robert Bogardus Parker, not Robert Brown Parker. Well, now that makes more sense. The original writin' Robert B. was actually born in 1905 and spent World War II as a war correspondent who also did some work for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.), the forerunner of the CIA. His wartime espionage fueled his three novels and especially Passport to Peril, a cloak-and-dagger tale of mistaken identity set in Cold-War era Budapest.
American John Stoddard is on the Orient Express, trying to get into Communist-ruled Hungary in order to lay to rest some personal demons left over from his time flying bombers during Word War II. Stoddard, a reporter by trade, is traveling under an assumed name and what he believes is a false passport because the Hungarian Communists are keeping Americans from entering their country. On the train, he meets Maria Torres, who turns out to be fleeing some menacing folks that may have harmed her boss. When the beautiful Ms. Torres tells Stoddard who her boss was, he realizes trouble is ahead, because the name is exactly the same as the one on his supposedly false passport.
Stoddard and Torres wind up on the run from several different intelligence agencies, and find out that there was more to Torres' employer than she knew, as well as the fact that (surprise, surprise), they can trust no one but each other.
This Parker writes in a good deal more workmanlike style than the writer who brought us Spenser, even though it's perfectly serviceable narrative and has every now and again some snappy wit of its own that Spenser might have appreciated. Passport has some plot holes and a couple of confusing patches, as well as one more plot thread than it actually needs. But it's a fine piece of pulp storytelling (complete with a killer opening sentence), and one might wonder what kind of career Parker would have had had he not died of a heart attack just before his 50th birthday in 1955.
This edition of Passport, published by the pulp revivalists at Hard Case Crime, contains a short afterward with a little bit of biography and remembrance from Parker's daughter Dorothy (no, not that one). In it, she notes that before divorcing, her parents had her as well as her brother, Robert Bogardus Parker III, leaving yet another Robert B. Parker wandering around out there. Robert B. Parker the Spenser creator, who passed away in 2010, had two sons, but named neither of them after him, which we can hope will begin to narrow the confusion a little.