Sometime spy Evan Tanner has accepted impossible assignments for many reasons: money, thrills, to have something to occupy his waking hours (twenty-four of them every day, in fact, since battlefield shrapnel obliterated his brain's sleep center). But this might be the first time he's put his life on the line . . . for love.
Tanner's agreed to smuggle a sexy Latvian gymnast—the lost lady love of a heart-sick friend—out of Russia. With the Cold War at its chilliest and the Iron Curtain slammed shut, this will not be easy, especially since everybody in Eastern Europe, it seems, wants to tag along, including a subversive Slav author and the six-year-old heir to the nonexistent Lithuanian throne.
But that's not the biggest hurdle. The gymnast refuses to budge unless Tanner rescues her eleven delightfully limber teammates as well—and that might be raising the bar too lethally high for even the ever-resourceful Evan Tanner to clear.
About the Author
Lawrence Block is one of the most widely recognized names in the mystery genre. He has been named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Edgar and Shamus Awards, as well as a recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan. He received the Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association—only the third American to be given this award. He is a prolific author, having written more than fifty books and numerous short stories, and is a devoted New Yorker and an enthusiastic global traveler.
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Tanner's Twelve Swingers
On my third day in Athens I sat at a small square table at the airport cafe watching a sleek Air India jet taxi down the runway, rise abruptly into the air, then break cloud cover and disappear from view. One of the seventy-nine passengers bound for London carried a passport that identified him as Evan Michael Tanner, American.
The passport lied. I am Evan Michael Tanner, American, and it was with mixed emotions that I watched my passport wing its way out of my life.
Across the table from me, Georgios Melas raised his glass in a silent toast to the departing plane. I lifted my own and sipped ouzo. It tasted like licorice whips on the tongue, like fire in the chest.
"You are unhappy," Georgios said.
"And on such a magnificent day!"
"A cloudy day."
"A few clouds—"
"It's getting cold. I think it's going to rain."
"Ah, and you worry about Pindaris on the plane. It will land safely in London, do not worry. And Pindaris will be safe in London."
It would have been unworthy to admit that I was worried about Pindaris chiefly in his capacity as custodian of my passport. Pindaris was an intense young Greek from the island of Andros who had recently revealed his discontent with the Greek government by hurling a canister bomb at a car that then contained the Minister of Defense. The bomb had not gone off. The alarm had, however, and Pindaris was hotter than Death Valley at high noon.
Since Pindaris was a fellow member of the Pan-Hellenic Friendship Society and since his English was good enough to convincean Englishman that he was an American, it had seemed only proper that I turn my passport over to him. He in turn had sworn on his mother's grave that he would have the passport returned to my apartment in New York.
"It will be home before you are," he had said more than once. And I could well believe it.
I sipped more ouzo, comforting myself with the thought that the passport would have been of little use to me for the near future. Once I crossed the Yugoslav border, a passport with my name on it would become a distinct liability. It would only serve to identify me to the Yugoslav authorities, who would respond by hanging me. I had once started a revolution in Yugoslavia, and such activity is apt to render one persona non grata almost anywhere.
Georgios motioned for more ouzo. "It is a noble thing you have done, Evan," he said solemnly. "The Pan-Hellenic Friendship Society will not be quick to forget this."
"To the Society," I said, and we drank again. But for the Pan-Hellenic Friendship Society, my passport would not have been en route to London at that very moment. But for the Latvian Army-In-Exile, I would not have been on my way to Latvia. But for the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, I would not have been preparing to slip across the Yugoslav frontier at the first opportunity.
And yet, I had to admit, all of this was not entirely true. As it happened, I was on my way to Latvia because I did not want to go to Colombia and because Karlis Mielovicius was my friend. Karlis was also a Lett, and Letts are incurable romantics, and Karlis was a Lett with his home in Providence, Rhode Island, and his heart in Riga, Latvia.
That's why I was going to Latvia.
I was going by way of Macedonia not because it was the shortest way to Latvia or the safest way to Latvia or the most sensible way to Latvia.
I was going to Macedonia to see my son.
In Georgios' house on the outskirts of Athens he and I drank still more ouzo while his wife stuffed tender vine leaves with rice and pine nuts and minced lamb. After dinner we switched to coffee. It was raining outside, as I had thought it might. We warmed ourselves in front of the wood fire, and I opened my flat leather satchel and took out a small charcoal sketch.
It showed a baby, and the baby looked like a baby. Cameras are scarce in Macedonia, and artists there have not been forced into abstraction by the advance of technology. Their task, as they see it, is to convey as well as possible the exact appearance of whatever it is they are drawing. This particular unknown artist had been drawing a baby, and that's exactly what the sketch looked like.
"A beautiful baby," I said aloud.
Georgios and his wife examined the sketch and agreed with my estimation. "He resembles you," Zoe Melas said. "About the eyes and I think the mouth as well."
"He's plump like his mother."
"He is in New York?"
"He is in Macedonia."
"Ah," she said. "And you go to see him?"
"Tonight!" She darted a look of alarm at Georgios, then fastened her gaze upon me. "But it is a long journey," she said, "and you have been awake since early this morning. You were sitting before the fire when I myself arose. You could not have had much sleep last night."
I had not had any sleep the past night. Nor, indeed, had I had any sleep in the past seventeen years, ever since a piece of North Korean shrapnel found its way into my skull and destroyed something called the sleep center, all of which was a source of considerable confusion to the army physicians, who wondered why the hell I seemed to be awake twenty-four hours a day, day after blessed day. Since the phenomenon confuses ordinary mortals as well as doctors, I didn't bother explaining it to Zoe and Georgios. I said only that I was not at all tired and that I wanted to get to Macedonia as soon as possible.
"I might arrange for a car," Georgios said.Tanner's Twelve Swingers. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Block's Evan Tanner is a non-spy-gone-awry, and this is one of the best of the series, with the introduction of Minna, heiress to the Lithuanian throne. The books were written in a pre-digital era, still-Soviet era, but somehow manage to be timeless and entertaining.
A delightful fast read with plenty of action and humor. Evan Turner is a spy for¿well, you name it since he doesn¿t really know the name of the agency he works for! A good friend asks Tanner if he would go to Latvia to get his girl friend out of the country and bring her to the United States. Tanner reluctantly gives in and agrees knowing that Latvia is one of the old Soviet nations that do not allow anyone in or out of their country. Tanner knows so many connected people so he feels he can do this without getting into trouble. Besides being a well-connected spy Tanner loves his women and seems to have one in every nation. He also has many friends in many nations that know Tanner well and owe him favors, which helps him in getting in and out of various countries. Any master spy can do this, correct? If your name is Evan Tanner or one of his aliases you have that freedom almost everywhere. Almost! Tanner starts his trip to ¿rescue¿ the girl out of Latvia. It seems the girl is a gymnast on the national team. As Tanner goes across various borders, some legally and some with forged papers, he looks up his friends in those countries to get help. Most do help him one way or another. But when it comes time to take the girl out of Latvia, along with a few things Tanner has picked up along the way for which he promised to deliver in other nations as he went, he runs into trouble. By the time he makes his final plans for leaving Latvia he has accumulated more people to smuggle out of a nation he is not even supposed to be in. If this sounds complicated, it is, but only for Tanner. The reader can understand every move and action that is made due to Lawrence Block¿s smooth writing. Even though this is a short book it packs plenty of action and fun into those pages. As I read it I was thinking how some authors would make a six hundred-page story out of all that occurred in this book. Block shortened it and kept it active and interesting.