Rust-laden water, spilling out of dilapidated gutters and ruined downspouts, had stained the gray stucco tenements that lined the muddy street...

Soon they were cruising west down Neftchilar Avenue, parallel to which ran a promenade that followed the coast of the Caspian Sea. Until recently, the promenade had been ... nothing more than a cracked asphalt path that had run along the edge of a rock breakwater that smelled of rotting fish and seaweed, [but it] was now a pristine expanse of white tile that extended all the way down to the water’s edge.

The refurbished promenade by the Bay of Baku.

Tbilisi State University, building #1. 

They passed through a long cave-like room with smokestained stone walls that arced inward to form an arched ceiling.Gilded couches were arranged on threadbare Persian carpets. At the end of the room stood a massive revolving door made of centuries-old oak and reinforced with thick iron bands. Orkhan pushed his way through it, as though entering a medieval dungeon.

The caravansary.

Beds inside the salt mine.

Below are two photos of the same street in Baku. The upper one was shot in 2013, the lower in 2007. Much of the city has received a similar facelift.

Cliffs along the Kura River.

Baku, Azerbaijan


Rising up from the hill that lay beyond Neftchilar Avenue, a
trio of gleaming flame-shaped skyscrapers dominated the western
skyline.


The flame skyscrapers, as seen from old Baku.

Tbilisi, Georgia


Tbilisi was a city of memories for Mark, not all of them good.But one thing he’d always liked was the church bells. They’d sounded strange to his ear whenever he’d come up from Muslim Azerbaijan, where he’d lived for years and which lay just south of Georgia. Though not religious himself, he appreciated the tenacity that those bells represented. For over fifteen hundred years the Georgian Orthodox Church had survived, despite invasions from Islamist Arabs, Turks, and Persians, and then the atheist Soviets. The bells said we’re survivors, we outlasted you all, we’re still here...


Scenes from old Tbilisi.

Remnants of the fortress that overlooks the gardens.

Around city hall.

All photos by Dan Mayland
Excerpts from the novel appear in italics

View of Ilan Dag, and mountainous Armenian border region, from Nakhchivan City.

Mausoleum detail: Allah in Arabic.

He paid the driver, walked to a bench opposite a thirty-foot-tall photograph of the president of Azerbaijan that adorned the Stalin-baroque city hall...

Ganja, city hall.

He’d lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment with a rickety wood balcony covered with brilliant purple wisteria vines.

A poppy in the botanical gardens.

The Tabriz hotel, Nakhchivan City.

The eleventh-century walls of Baku, rebuilt.

Wisteria vines in old Tbilisi.

Scavenging by the river.

Ganja, Azerbaijan


While Baku was fast on its way to becoming a mini-Dubai, Ganja was in no such danger. Plastic bags, old tires, cans, bottles, and dead birds were strewn all over the rocky bed of the river that ran through the center of the city. Scavengers combed through the garbage. Sewage dripped out of cracked cast-iron pipes left exposed because of low water.

The Ganja River.

Saint George and the dragon, where Lenin used to be.

Tucked away on the back side of the ridge, in the shadow of a medieval fortress, the [botanical] gardens of Tbilisi were a welcome refuge from the city. It was a wild place, crisscrossed by little dirt trails and crumbling stone walls. Because the city was on the other side of the ridge, the sound of cars was barely audible, and he could hear little but the wind rustling through the leaves.

The botanical gardens of Tbilisi.

The badlands near the salt mine.

Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan


To the northwest, Mark could see Ilan Dag—the rocky mountain where local legend said Noah’s ark first struck land, leaving a deep cleft in the top before landing on the slopes of Mount Ararat, in what was now eastern Turkey.

Ilan Dag. Snowcapped mountains in the distance are near the border with Armenia.

He’d loved Tbilisi back then; had loved the cliffs along the Kura River, the foothills of the green mountains that rose up on the west side of the city, the majestic art nouveau buildings that lined the bustling Rustaveli Prospekti, the opera house where he’d seen Verdi’s La Traviata and Wagner’s Tannhäuser for four rubles…

At the end of the park stood a ten-sided eighty-foot-tall 12th-century mausoleum that was decorated with the word Allah rendered in Arabic.

Rasul Tagiyev would have lived on a street like this.

View of the Aras River and Iran (the mountains just past the river), from top floor of the Tabriz hotel in downtown Nakhchivan City. 

...they would pass near Tbilisi State University. Mark pictured the old cypress trees out front, the overlook out back where he and Katerina used to build campfires at night, the wide museum-like steps in front leading up to building #1. How many times had he sat on those steps with Katerina?

...when he and Keal drove through the square at the southern end of Rustaveli Avenue in downtown Tbilisi, he didn’t see Saint George atop the massive pedestal in the center of the square, he saw Lenin, the man who used to be there.

PHOTOS

​​of places featured in

Death of a Spy