Photo © Robin Straus
Joseph Kanon was born in Pennsylvania and studied at Harvard University, and at Trinity College in Cambridge. As an undergraduate, he published his first stories in the The Atlantic Monthly. Later he became editor in chief, CEO, and president of the publishing houses Houghton Mifflin and E. P. Dutton in New York, before he began writing in 1995.
His first novel, Los Alamos (1997), became a bestseller and received the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1998. Further novels followed, including The Prodigal Spy, The Good German and Alibi. Kanon's stories are set in the period between World War II and 1950, and he has often used a real event, such as the Potsdam Conference or the Manhattan Project, as the background for a murder case.
Kanon's novels are critically acclaimed, and reviewers from the Boston Globe and The New York Times have compared his work with the novels of Graham Greene and John le Carré. A film based on The Good Germanwas produced in 2006, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett.
Kanon lives with his wife, the literary agent Robin Straus, in New York City.
Atria Books, 2012
From the acclaimed, bestselling author of Stardust, The Good German, and Los Alamos—a gripping tale of an American undercover agent in 1945 Istanbul who descends into the murky cat-and-mouse world of compromise and betrayal that will come to define the entire post-war era.A neutral capital straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul has spent the war as a magnet for refugees and spies. Even American businessman Leon Bauer has been drawn into this shadow world, doing undercover odd jobs and courier runs for the Allied war effort. Now as the espionage community begins to pack up and an apprehensive city prepares for the grim realities of post-war life, he is given one more assignment, a routine job that goes fatally wrong, plunging him into a tangle of intrigue and moral confusion.
Played out against the bazaars and mosques and faded mansions of this knowing, ancient Ottoman city, Leon's attempt to save one life leads to a desperate manhunt and a maze of shifting loyalties that threatens his own. How do you do the right thing when there are only bad choices to make? Istanbul Passage is the story of a man swept up in the aftermath of war, an unexpected love affair, and a city as deceptive as the calm surface waters of the Bosphorus that divides it.
Rich with atmosphere and period detail, Joseph Kanon's latest novel flawlessly blends fact and fiction into a haunting thriller about the dawn of the Cold War, once again proving why Kanon has been hailed as the "heir apparent to Graham Greene" (The Boston Globe).
Atria Books, 2009
Hollywood, 1945. Ben Collier has just arrived from war-torn Europe to find his brother has died in mysterious circumstances. Why would a man with a beautiful wife, a successful movie career, and a heroic past choose to kill himself?Ben enters the uneasy world beneath the glossy shine of the movie business, where politics and the dream factories collide and Communist witch hunts are rendering the biggest star makers vulnerable. Even here, where the devastation of Europe seems no more real than a painted movie set, the war casts long and dangerous shadows. When Ben learns troubling facts about his own family's past and embarks on a love affair that never should have happened, he is caught in a web of deception that shakes his moral foundation to its core.
Rich with atmosphere and period detail, Stardust flawlessly blends fact and fiction into a haunting thriller evoking both the glory days of the movies and the emergence of a dark strain of American political life.
Winner of the Hammett Prize
It is 1946, and Adam Miller has come to Venice to visit his widowed mother and try to forget the horrors he has witnessed as a U.S. Army war crimes investigator in Germany. But when he falls in love with Claudia, a Jewish woman scarred by her devastating experiences during World War II, he is forced to confront another Venice, a city still at war with itself, haunted by atrocities it would rather forget. Everyone, including his mother's suave new Venetian suitor, has been compromised by the occupation, and Adam finds himself at the center of a web of deception, intrigue, and unexpected moral dilemmas. When is murder acceptable? What are the limits of guilt? How much is someone willing to pay for a perfect alibi?
Alibi is at once a murder mystery, a love story, and a superbly crafted novel about the nature of moral responsibility.
The Good German
St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2006
The bestselling author of Los Alamos and Alibi returns to 1945. Hitler has been defeated, and Berlin is divided into zones of occupation. Jake Geismar, an American correspondent who spent time in the city before the war, has returned to write about the Allied triumph while pursuing a more personal quest: his search for Lena, the married woman he left behind. When an American soldier's body is found in the Russian zone during the Potsdam Conference, Jake stumbles on the lead to a murder mystery. The Good German is a story of espionage and love, an extraordinary re-creation of a city devastated by war, and a thriller that asks the most profound ethical questions in its exploration of the nature of justice, and what we mean by good and evil in times of peace and of war.
The Prodigal Spy
Walter Kotlar is the epitome of the American dream, the son of working class immigrants who attends Yale and becomes part of the establishment, but he is caught up in the '50s fear of the 'red menace' and forced to testify before the Committee on Un-American Activities. He seems a very unlikely Communist, but before the hearing is concluded he has disappeared—defected to the East—though not before the chief witness has committed 'suicide'. 19 years later his son, Nick, receives a message that his father wants to see him in Prague. His first reaction is rejection and denial, but his memories and curiosity combined with a deep attraction for the messenger persuade him to risk the journey only a year after the Russian invasion. He discovers his father to be dying and eager to 'come home'. He learns too that the events preceding Walter's defection were not as simplistic as he'd thought, but before he can really work out what had happened his father is dead, probably murdered. Sure now that his father is more victim than villain, Nick knows he can only prove this in America, but he is stuck in a country where rules of evidence and justice are ignored and getting out is not going to be straightforward ...
Island Books, 2010
In a dusty, remote community of secretly constructed buildings and awesome possibility, the world's most brilliant minds have come together. Their mission: to split an atom and end a war. But among those who have come to Robert Oppenheimer's "enchanted campus" of foreign-born scientists, baffled guards, and restless wives is a simple man, an unraveler of human secrets—a man in search of a killer.
It is the spring of 1945. And Michael Connolly has been sent to Los Alamos to investigate the murder of a security officer on the Manhattan Project. But amid the glimmering cocktail parties and the staggering genius, Connolly will find more than he bargained for. Sleeping in a dead man's bed and making love to another man's wife, Connolly has entered the moral no-man's-land of Los Alamos. For in this place of discovery and secrecy, hope and horror, Connolly is plunged into a shadowy war with a killer—as the world is about to be changed forever....
"Istanbul Passage bristles with authenticity. Joseph Kanon has a unique and admirable talent: he brilliantly marries suspense and historical fact, wrapping them around a core of pure human drama, while making it seem effortless. This isn't just talent; it's magic."--Olen Steinhauer, New York Times bestselling author of The Tourist
"Istanbul Passage is a first-rate espionage novel, filled with complexity and thrills, but its greatest success may be in this much more universal literary exploration: how an ordinary man is transformed by extraordinary circumstances."
--Publishers Weekly (Signature Review)
"With dialogue that can go off like gunfire and a streak of nostalgia that feels timeless, this book takes its place among espionage novels as an instant classic."
--Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Superbly crafted... A beautifully conceived and atmospheric thriller; highly recommended."
-- Library Journal (Starred Review)
"Spectacular in every way...wonderfully imagined, wonderfully written, an urgent personal mystery set against the sweep of glamorous and sinister history. Joseph Kanon owns this corner of the literary landscape and it's a joy to see him reassert his title with such emphatic authority." -- Lee Child
"The new Joe Kanon is one of the best, Stardust is the perfect combination of intrigue and accurate history brought to life." -- Alan Furst
"Stardust is sensational! No one writes period fiction with the same style and suspense - not to mention substance - as Joseph Kanon. A terrific read." -- Scott Turow
The Good German
"Joesph Kanon...has woven his plot seamlessly into the historical background. As the hunt for the missing scientist gathers speed, the moral and emotional dimensions of the story become more complex. The mystery takes on the weight of the deepest questions of right and wrong as the novel's action moves through a ravaged Berlin so exactly depicted that one feels Kanon must have traveled in time to witness this landscape himself...In its articulation of a personal experience of the war and its aftermath, and in the plain power of its prose, The Good German rivals Irwin Shaw's novel The Young Lions, its history imaginatively accessible, its plot historically inevitable. A novel that brings to life the ambiguities at the heart of our country's moral legacy. Provocative, fully realized fiction that explores, as only fiction can, the reality of history as it is lived by individual men and women." -The New York Times
"Kanon is the heir apparent to Graham Greene and early-and mid-passage le Carre, for he writes of moral quandaries that are real and not created to drive a plot."--Robin W. Winks, The Boston Globe
In The Good German (2001), Kanon superbly evoked the post-apocalyptic, pockmarked moonscape of 1946 Germany. Now he turns to postwar Venice, where there are no pockmarks but the survivors are equally shell-shocked by the nearness of evil. Adam Miller, fresh from a stint as a war crimes investigator in Frankfurt, arrives in Vienna to visit his globe-trotting mother, who is holding tenuously to the remains of her fortune and embarking on an autumnal romance with a Venetian doctor whose wartime associations with the Nazis remain troubling if obscure. Miller begins a tumultuous romance with a Jewish woman whose own wartime experience has left her with deep psychic wounds. Soon enough the past can no longer remain hidden as a stunning murder leaves Adam torn between righting wrongs and protecting those he loves and himself. In a world where alibis are the currency of the era--everyone was "somewhere else when the air-raid sirens covered the sounds of people being dragged off"--Adam attempts to tread lightly through a landscape loaded with moral land mines. As before, Kanon juxtaposes a powerful love story and a gripping thriller against a palpable historical moment, but this time his hero can't quite shoulder the burden, his naive American assumptions about right and wrong leaving him ill-equipped to respond and never quite able to garner our full sympathy. And, yet, the novel holds us completely, with its vision of a sadly inadequate hero striking deep at our worst fears about ourselves. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
The Prodigal Spy
From Library Journal
Suppose Sen. Joseph McCarthy, HUAC, and other loyalty investigators had actually unearthed a Communist spy during those pyrotechnic years from 1950 to 1954. And suppose this spy had disappeared and was not heard from until 1969, when through mysterious means he communicates from Prague with his grown son and tells him he wishes to return to the United States. On this premise, Kanon has constructed a literate, swiftly paced thriller. As in Los Alamos, he again demonstrates his ability to tell a story and make his characters come alive. There is suspense, expertly built up; a love interest, in the most approved contemporary fashion; and action, in the classic spy tradition. The political climate of Washington in the 1950s and the atmosphere of suspicion and fear in Prague under the Soviets feel real. A treat for crime fans who appreciate blithe and brittle writing. — A.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
From the former head of Houghton Mifflin's trade division, a first thriller set at Los Alamos during the later stages of the building of the atomic bomb. The war is winding down in Europe, and President Roosevelt has died. The Army calls a civilian intelligence officer, Michael Connolly, to New Mexico to investigate the death of Karl Bruner, a Manhattan Project security officer. The Army is unsure whether Bruner's death is connected to the Project or merely incidental. If there are security implications, though, they must be identified and dealt with quickly. Meanwhile, the local police want to put a lid on the case, and they connect it to a similar murder in Albuquerque for which they have a suspect. Bruner was homosexual, they say, and died because he picked up the wrong man. But as Michael interviews Bruner's co-workers and looks into the financial affairs of the secretive post, where famous physicists such as Robert Oppenheimer are furiously working, he begins to piece together a shadowy tale of espionage. Is there a German agent among all the German expatriates? Are the Russians involved? Kanon plays out his mystery far into the novel, mixing in a love affair between Michael and an Englishwoman, Emma Pawlowski, who is married to one of the physicists. Oppenheimer, who appears at several crucial points in the narrative, remains an enigma. And Emma, who at first seems straightforward and charming, grows more and more complicated, so that Michael's affair with her may be, he suspects, compromising in more ways than one. Better than the mystery, however, or certainly enriching it, is Kanon's feel for the wartime milieu: the effects of rationing on daily life, the way people talked, the patriotism that was accepted as a matter of course. Finally, Kanon clearly loves the desert, and Michael and Emma's adventures there seem genuinely romantic. An unusually promising debut. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
A Tour of Istanbul with Joseph Kanon
Join bestselling author Joseph Kanon, on a tour of Istanbul to learn why it was called the City of Spies and find out more about his latest book, Istanbul Passage, a gripping tale of an American undercover agent in 1945 Istanbul.
Follow Joe Kanon on a tour of Hollywood as he takes us to the Hollywood of decades past and talks about the role it plays in his book, STARDUST.