Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Cairo Affair: Olen Steinhauer


I have been a fan of espionage fiction for a long time, but I have avoided books in that genre that cover espionage in the Middle East. However, Olen Steinhauer is one of my favorite authors, so I am going to read anything he writes in this genre. When I was offered an opportunity to  read this book via NetGalley, I took them up on the offer immediately.

The Cairo Affair
starts during the activities of the Arab Spring, in February 2011. (See note below.) Sophie Kohl's husband Emmett is currently working at the American embassy in Hungary, but his previous assignment was in Cairo. Both of them have friends still in Cairo, and when Emmett is killed, Sophie seeks the reasons for his death there. Along her journey to discover the truth, we visit the couple in the early years of their marriage. Along the way, three other characters get pulled into the quest: Stan Bertolli, a CIA agent in Cairo; Omar Halawi, who works in Egyptian intelligence; and John Calhoun, a contractor working for CIA agents in Cairo.

I was very pleased with this novel. I loved the structure, with the point of view changing focus several times throughout the story, and the story moving back and forth in time. Some readers find this narrative style disorienting, but I thrive on that kind of story. As usual, his characterization is very good, although in an espionage novel, the author cannot tell us too much about the characters without spoiling the story. The characters are the focus of this story, showing how their jobs and their chosen way of life is affecting them. Once again, this is a spy novel with the emphasis on the problem of trust. In the world of politics and espionage, who can you trust? Your family? Your coworkers?

Note my reviews of The Tourist and The Nearest Exit. They are books 1 and 2 in the Tourist trilogy, also written by Steinhauer. I have yet to read the third in the trilogy, The American Spy.

Arab Spring was a term I was not familiar with, which reveals a lot about me. I found two interesting posts on that period. One is at NPR, written in 2011. The second is an article at CNN re Arab Spring three years later. 

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Publisher: Minotaur Books [2014]
Length: 417 pages
Format / Origin: e-book, via NetGalley


15 comments:

  1. Skimmed the review as I have this to get to myself - pleased you enjoyed it though, which bodes well. In the next couple of weeks hopefully! You're two ahead of me on the Weaver books.

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    1. Col, I hope you like it. The structure is different from his other books, but it still makes me want to go back and reread his first series.

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  2. Tracy - So glad you enjoyed this one. And the question of what else went on during the Arab Spring is absolutely fascinating. So is the question of what it's like when you're not sure who is who and whom you can trust...

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    1. I did enjoy this one so much, Margot. I liked learning about this time in the Middle East, although I still have lots to learn.

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  3. I really must start reading Steinhauer - I keep not reading contemporary authors and I must change that! Thanks very much as always TracyK

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    1. Sergio, nothing wrong with sticking with older authors, but Steinhauer is definitely worth a try to see if you like his writing.

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  4. I put this one on my wishlist. I keep circling his books but with so many already in my possession, he keeps getting missed. Thanks for your timely review. I'll go check out your previous reviews.

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    1. I know what you mean, Keishon. I despair when I look at my bookshelves and have so many authors I never get to. I am a cheerleader for Steinhauer's books; the two series are both different from this standalone book, but I liked all that I have read.

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  5. You do make this sound good, great review, but probably not for me. I think I like my espionage books historical, and preferably Cold War...

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    1. I prefer the same types of espionage books as you describe, Moira, but since I like Steinhauer so much, I was willing to take a chance on this one. His first series of five books are set in Eastern Europe and cover from 1948 until 1989. Those I will go back and reread someday.

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    2. Oh now that sounds good! I might go and look for those ones.

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  6. Tracy, I've read very few books about espionage in the Middle East though the region figures in all kinds of spy fiction, especially in recent years owing to terrorism, civil unrest, and America's renewed interest in that part of the world. I'm glad you enjoyed this novel. It really sounds good.

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    1. Prashant, the book was very good. I also liked learning a bit about that area of the world.

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  7. Although I've got more than enough to read I'm going to look out for this one, as I like spy stories too!

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    1. Sarah, I hope you find it, and enjoy it. I am looking forward to I Am Pilgrim, which comes out here at the end of May.

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