Saturday, April 12, 2014

Brief Mention: THE CAIRO AFFAIR, Olen Steinhauer

At this point, Olen Steinhauer's books are getting enormous press. For me, it's the kind of situation I enjoy a lot -- years ago I discovered his "Tourist" espionage series, went wild about it, and wrote about the books often. (Like, here.) And now "everybody" knows that the next Steinhauer, and the next, will be such excellent reading that it's worth getting each title. (Nope, I'm not saying they all heard about Steinhauer from me ... just that it's exciting to spot a top-flight author on the way up.)

But just in case you DON'T yet have some of these books on your shelf: THE CAIRO AFFAIR is an excellent place to start. Like Charles McCarry's excellent (and sometimes little known) espionage title The Secret Lovers, this title is meant to read two ways. It's first a political snafu in Cairo, Egypt, and Steinhauer's lively and quick-paced novel takes us into the heart of the Arab Spring: Libyan terrorists, religious conflicts, power struggles. Why should any of it be connected to the sudden shooting, in public, of Sophie Kohl's American diplomat husband in Hungary?

Well, our sins have long roots. And chopping off the stems doesn't stop the roots from traveling onward and sending up more shoots, right? Sophie's just been confronted by her husband Emmett and, with little fuss, admitted to an affair in their last posting, in Egypt. (Second meaning of the title.) She sees no direct connection to the murder that's just happened in front of her, but then again, she's got to start somewhere, responding to what's happened.
She wasn't going to do anything that she'd done before in her life. Emmett had been too good and too strong, and she would try to at least be something better than she had been.

She returned to bed and picked up her cell phone, again turning it on. It was three thirty in the morning, and there were twenty-eight missed calls. Mother, father, friends, unknown numbers, and, twice, Stan Bertolli. Dependable Stan. She pressed the green button to call her old lover in Cairo.
Steinhauer packs in some stunning twists, as well as suspense and enough different views of the roles of the United States in northern Africa that the Arab Spring takes on fresh aspects and layered depth. The book spins to a highly satisfying conclusion. Of course, I ended up with many more questions about the state of the world, lingering, sticking with me, and then pushing me to the Sunday newspaper with fresh eyes and rekindled curiosity.

Thanks, Olen Steinhauer.

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