EDWARD S. AARONS – Assignment Mara Tirana. Sam Durell #12. Gold Medal s1036, paperback original; 1st printing, September 1960.

   CIA agent Sam Durell has a twofold problem in this adventure: first, the USA’s first man into space has come down somewhere in the Balkans, far behind the Iron Curtain, and second, his lady friend Dierdre, who has lately become slightly involved with the previously mentioned astronaut, has also gotten herself captured, in her case by the Soviet agent anxious to keep Durell off the trail.

   There is one other complication, and that is Mara Tirana, a Soviet agent who wants to defect, but whose brother most emphatically does not. As is always the case in these adventures of San Durell, the scenery and other background is vividly etched in picturesque dtail, but as you can tell, there’s also a little too much plot here to be held in at only 175 pages. It’s bulging at the seams, and something has to give — which is a heck of a complaint to make about a book: it’s just not long enough!

PostScript:   If you’ve never read one of the Sam Durell novels, I thought I’d give you a brief taste of them. The excerpts below should give you an idea of the details that Aarons provided his readers abut locales of the world that back when these books were written were far off the beaten track for all but the most seasoned travelers. In fact, most of them still are today.

   From pages 64 and 65:

    “They were on the main highway out of Vienna, speeding northeast into the Marchfield District, where the Danube was over three hundred yards wide and its channel was divided by numerous small islands. The frontier, where the river passed through a narrow gap between the lower spurs of the Carpathians, was thirty miles away. Here, in the night and rain, the countryside of church spires and fertile fields was dark and peaceful.”

    “…They crawled ahead,easing their way through the gloom. Durell could see the Danube now, a broad reach of rain-dimpled water, with the opposite bank beyond several small islands, probably in Czech territory at this point. To the east was the loom of hills that narrowed the gap for the river to pass through the spurs of the Carpathians. Lights twinkled o the river, and there were moving objects, barges and small steamers chuffing, with diesel engines muttering in the mist, and an occasional glimmer of red or green running from the international river traffic.”

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990 (slightly revised).