Edward Mercer is the very modern hero of Victor Canning's thriller, Venetian Bird. The book was published in 1951, and is set in and around Venice immediately after the second world war, so its locale and milieu are anything but modern; and anyway, the plot recalls no-one so much as Buchan, though a more subtle and careful Buchan. No, Mercer's modernness is in his self-doubt. He has great strengths, of intelligence, loyalty, an aversion to violence, but he is full of doubt and self disgust, and he sees for himself a bleak and loveless future, with a descent into decay and indigence.
In your heart, you know this cannot be true. But there are no silver linings here, though there are shafts of light through the clouds. But this is, in the main, an action adventure. Mercer is seeking a man who had helped an American during the war; the American's family wants to get in contact, to reward him, and Mercer is acting on their behalf. The man turns out to be dead, but a man who was bringing Mercer information is himself killed, and others around him start to behave oddly. The police become interested, suspecting Mercer of the informant's death, and we learn that he was a wartime assassin in Italy.
The plot moves quickly on, with some mystery and a lot of energy, and a feeling for an unhappy, poor and cynical post-war Italy. But there is little violence - or more correctly, the violence is treated at a distance, reported but not gloried in. Mercer is dogged, finding himself on the trail of more of a mystery than he had bargained for, and gets caught up in a plot to assassinate a popular figure in preparation for a military coup. How and why, I had best leave to you to find out. The book has a pleasantly nostalgic feel, is not as clumsy or as cardboard as some thrillers of the period, and is more up to date in its sensibilities than you might imagine. Enjoy!