Between 1955 and 1976, Edward S. Aarons wrote 42 installments of his series starring a Cajun CIA field operative named Sam Durrell in a variety of international assignments. My limited experience with the series is that they can be enjoyed in any order, so I picked up 1972’s “Assignment-Bangkok” purely for the prospect of a fun spy adventure set in Thailand.
The assignment itself involves bringing home a CIA colleague named Mike Slocum who has gone dark somewhere in the jungles of Northeast Thailand where Durell sent him to scout for a new threat emanating from Red China. Before hitting the Thai jungles to find and recover his missing operative, Durrell must spend some time in the capital city of Bangkok gathering leads...and some operational support.
The formula for many of the “Assignment” novels finds Durell assembling unlikely people in his orbit to complete the mission, and “Assignment-Bangkok” seems to be built on that same platform (kinda like the Blues Brothers getting the band together). The team he assembles includes a Buddhist monk who is actually a CIA sleeper agent living a life of contemplative meditation and a female industrialist with a personal stake in Slocum’s well-being.
The assignment becomes intertwined with the refineries in the Golden Triangle turning opium into heroin, and the armed factions who want to ensure their operations continue uninterrupted. Within this subplot, there’s a compelling mystery as Durell works to identify the drug lord while staying one step in front of corrupted local officials.
As a series hero, I’ve always found Durell’s personality to be rather wooden. He’s not nearly the fully-realized character of James Bond or Matt Helm. But the Cajun is smart, competent, and patriotic protagonist who is thrust into several difficult and life-threatening situations in this Thai adventure that he navigates quite well. Aarons’ writing is well-researched and never dull, and he has a knack for creating an interesting supporting cast of characters to support and oppose Durell. Overall, “Assignment-Bangkok” is the best Durell novel I’ve read to date, and anyone with an interest in Thailand-based Cold War adventures will be pleased with this installment. Recommended.
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