ASSIGNMENT - STELLA MARNI surprised me, though, in that it's nothing at all like most spy novels I've encountered. In fact, it's more like ninety-percent mystery novel, ten-percent spy novel - and only that because it deals with Soviet-era spy rings and the "detective" is a CIA agent.
The mystery is decent one, though, a little thin once you get into the meat of the novel. Essentially, Iron Curtain refugees in the US are being blackmailed into decrying America as capitalist pig-dogs and repatriating themselves to their countries of origin. Frank Greenwald, a lonely, middle-aged bachelor, has fallen in love with one such refugee. His brother, Art, happens to be a member of the CIA, working under section chief Sam Durell, and he asks his boss for help. Shortly after, both Frank and Art are murdered and now it's personal for Sam.
It has all the hallmarks of a crime novel, with the crusading detective looking to right a wrong against a seemingly impossible to beat enemy, complete with fist-fights, occasional shooting matches, and sexy damsels in distress. Throughout it, though, there's a pervasively patriotic message as well as a humanitarian one. Sam Durell firmly believes that there is no such thing as American vs Soviet or Capitalist vs Communist on a human level, only people trying their best to live their lives in peace and safety. It's stated over and over in various ways and it's actually an unusual message for a novel of the time.
In the end, of course, the detective triumphs, as we knew he would, but he's also a changed person, which is another deviation from the standard formula. In many such works, especially series works, things sort of reset to normal at the end (or at least there's an implication that such will happen). In this, though, Durell is left with a feeling that things will never quite be the same again after the experiences he's had. He's encountered true evil for the first time and it has nothing to do with socio-economic politics. Whether that continues to be the case in subsequent novels, I don't yet know.
Nitty-gritty: did I love this novel? No, but I liked it a lot more than I thought I would and if I see more of Aarons' CIA detective hero, I'll definitely give them a shot.