Posted by EPL patron and guest blogger, Irv S.
The Boston Book Review says that Robert Olen Butler is "a master of enveloping his reader in the consciousness of a character." He has certainly lived up to the reviewer's praise with The Star of Istanbul. It is literary and highly entertaining.
The novel begins in 1915 when Christopher "Kit" Marlowe Cobb, a Chicago journalist and a spy for the U.S., boards The Lusitania for what is to be its last voyage. He is to write about the war in Europe while following and reporting on the activities of a British professor who is suspected of spying for Germany. The U.S. was not yet in The Great War but soon would be, at least in part due to U-boat activity, including the sinking of The Lusitania.
There is plenty of action as Kit happily narrates his spooking and sexing. Like most similar characters, he demonstrates tremendous vigor and stamina (Have you been amazed by the energy of Robert Ludlum's Bourne?) He has a torrid fling with a beautiful actress, a terrifying escape from the sinking ship, and numerous confrontations with enemy spies, some German some not. Kit shifts gears from spying for his country (i.e., tell as little as possible, then only to those who need to know) to reporting (i.e., tell as much as possible to as many as possible.) He is comfortable in both roles and doesn't seem to worry about, or even to be aware of, the inconsistency.
The ending is not predictable, perhaps not even foreseeable.The history is good and reliable. The descriptions of style and architecture are somewhat esoteric. The dialog is true and idiomatic.
Jeff Guinn wrote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Butler "is the best living American writer, period." High and well-deserved praise. Butler graduated from Granite City High School in 1963 and teaches creative writing at Florida State University.