forgotten book: Assignment Budapest

the 46th in my review series of “forgotten” books

by Edward S. Aarons, Gold Medal #971, © 1957, this 2nd ed. 1960, pb, spy – Sam Durell

sorry for the poor image, my copy is packed away

“The war that Durell fought was not one that rang with bugles or trembled to the beat of drums. It was dark and silent, fought with nerve and skill; the war of espionage; and it’s battlefield was only too often the dirty streets and black slum alleys of far-away corners of the troubled world.”

I pulled this one off the shelf a while ago, one of several of Aaron’s Sam Durell books I’d found in a great used book shop that’s now sadly gone.

I’d not read one of these before. Bill Crider said of the Durell books “Those Assignment books are pretty uneven, but some of them are pretty darned good.  Aarons was really good at local color.”

That Aarons is good at local color is abundantly apparent in this book. If the series is uneven then this may be one of the better ones. Based on the plot it follows Assignment: Stella Marni in the series sequence.

It takes place not long after the October Revolution in Hungary. Bela Korvuth is a Hungarian super assassin who has come to the U.S. to kill two people: one is a nuclear scientist, the other is Sam Durell, the U.S agent most feared by Korvuth’s Russian masters. Secondary plot elements involve Diedrde Padgett, Durell’s paramour, and Illona, an agent who entered the country as part of  Korvuth’s team but turns near the beginning of the book (that’s not really a spoiler, it happens the second time we meet the character). The story begins in New Jersey but moves to Hungary for much of the action and finishes with Durell’s return to the U.S.

Aarons is no LeCarre, but this is not a bad spy story. I wouldn’t make a steady diet of these but now and then would be just fine.

~  ~  ~  ~

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews
at her own blog, and
posts a complete list of participating blogs.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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17 Responses to forgotten book: Assignment Budapest

  1. Bill Crider says:

    I don’t know how Aarons managed such good descriptions of the places he writes about, but it’s as if he’d been to every one of them. I always enjoy the Durrell books, but, as you say, not as a steady diet.

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    My husband loves spy books but I can never get into them. Too much plot, not enough character for my taste.

  3. Evan Lewis says:

    Memories. I somehow acquired this book as a kid (and likely still have it) but never got around to reading it.

  4. Richard says:

    Bill – do we know that Aarons didn’t travel around the world? I haven’t read anything much about him.

    Patti – these are easy reading, fast, plenty of action, focus on characters as much as deep spy plot. Don’t think LeCarre here, think Eric Ambler.

  5. Richard says:

    Evan – one day when you come across it, read it and let me know what you think. It goes pretty fast.

  6. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I read one of these set in the Far East (Assignment – Sulu Sea) and concur with the “local color” comments. Last year I picked up a bunch of them (I see 8 on the shelf) from the Exchange including both the Budapest one (#5) and the first in the series – Assignment to Disaster – but haven’t read any of them as yet.

    I really need to read another one.

  7. I read a number of Durell in my twenties. Such a (cough) long time ago, it’s hard to remember. I’ve culled the collection a couple of times, the peril of a small home, that I no longer have the ones I did read.

  8. I loved this series. I think Aarons’ son wrote a few of the last titles in the series.

  9. Todd Mason says:

    I suspect Aarons, like a number of other writers, might well’ve used his novels as a way of making business expenses of his travels…certainly the likes of CARIOCA FLETCH by Gregory MacDonald are little else…or at least, if he was a homebody, of his travel urges and research time.

    I, too, have been meaning to read Aarons more than the bits and pieces I’ve infrequently picked up…someday…

  10. Richard says:

    Randy – I was faced with a large book reduction or buying a new house. That’s getting desperate, esoecially when you consider my choice: the new house. I will say, I could have bought a LOT of books for he money it’s costing to make the move, not to mention the cost of the house itself. I would have had no place to put them, however. More room, and more book room, is a good thing now.

  11. Richard says:

    George – I have read only one other (I think I did, anyway) at this point and only have a half dozen of them, which, as I said in the post, are now packed for the move.

    Todd – That wouldn’t surprise me a bit, I think many authors do it. I was not – am not – much of a fan of the Fletch books,I read the first, I might have finished the second, that’s it.

  12. Steve Lewis says:

    By sheer coincidence, I started reading one of Aaron’s Sam Durell books last night, way long before I read your review, Richard. It would have even weirder if it had been BUDAPEST, but we’re not that far into the Twilight Zone. I’m only a few chapters into SUMATRA, and I feel as though I’m there. (Sumatra, that is, not the Twilight Zone.)

    Either Aarons did a lot of traveling, or he wore out his encyclopedia and travel guides, I don’t know which, but everything everyone says about this series true. Somewhat uneven in the plots, perhaps, but the details always “feel” right. (I say that because I’ve never been to any of the places he writes about, so how would I know?)

    The funny thing is, is that before 1950 or so, when Gold Medal came along, he wrote a long list of ordinary detective novels as by Edward Ronns, starting back in 1938, and I mean ordinary. He started out for Phoenix Press, if you can believe it.

    But once he hooked up with Gold Medal and he switched to his real name, he suddenly became a top notch spy and adventure writer. Well, maybe not “top notch” but way better than average. What brought this side of him out so strongly, I’ve always wondered about that also.

  13. Richard says:

    Steve – thanks for that comment and all the great background n Aarons. I’d not heard of the Ronns pseudonym.

    I believe SUMATRA is one of the ones I have, now boxed, but I’m not sure. When I was on the upper floor of that used book store, surrounded by dusty shelves and boxes, I saw a bunch of these Assignment books and just picked the covers I liked.

  14. Jon says:

    The only one I ever read in this series was Assignment: Moon Girl. It seemed like it fit my Science Fiction collection when I bought it.

  15. Richard says:

    Jon – that’s not one of the ones I have, nor do I remember seeing it. How was it?

  16. Skala says:

    I’ve just finished the first in the series, Assignment to Disaster, and thought it was very good. A little heavy on the romance (Sam Durell falls head over heels in love with a girl about the moment he meets her), but I’ll let it slide because I like the character Aarons created in Sam Durell. I also believe the romance with Deirdre Padgett is used throughout the series as the “one true love” for Sam Durell, despite his many romantic encounters with females.

    I liked the action and the plot, though. I think Aarons’ writing ability speaks for itself. Very good descriptive passages throughout. Sam Durell seems very cool. I could imagine him being portrayed in film by Alain Delon.

    I have just begun the second in the series, Assignment – Treason. So far the plot setup is pretty good. I think I’ll probably end up reading all of this series. At least the first book, to me, is recommended.

  17. Richard says:

    It’s a good series, well worth reading. I do suggest you wait a little between books, they get tiresome (and assume a certain sameness) if read back-to-back-to-back.

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