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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Qisas - a settling of accounts - at the end of a desert road
As has been mentioned by at least one other reviewer, THE CAIRO AFFAIR by Olen Steinhauer is reminiscent of the espionage novels by John le Carré and Len Deighton, which focus more on the nuts and bolts of the spy game rather than dramatic action. This isn't a thriller, but, as a complex story with a beginning, middle, and end involving multiple, realistic...
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer

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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Betrayal
The Cairo Affair is a fictionalized behind the scenes look at the machinations of the recent Arab Spring; the story told through a wide and varied set of characters, many of them members of the international "intelligence" community - read spies. Unlike the author's previous books the sense/description of place - including sights, sounds and smells - is mixed. Less so is...
Published 11 months ago by JoeV


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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Qisas - a settling of accounts - at the end of a desert road, February 5, 2014
This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Hardcover)
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As has been mentioned by at least one other reviewer, THE CAIRO AFFAIR by Olen Steinhauer is reminiscent of the espionage novels by John le Carré and Len Deighton, which focus more on the nuts and bolts of the spy game rather than dramatic action. This isn't a thriller, but, as a complex story with a beginning, middle, and end involving multiple, realistic characters and questions to be answered, it's commendably satisfying. Thus, THE CAIRO AFFAIR separates itself from another spy procedural I recently read, Dynamite Fishermen, which incorporated no mystery or conflict between antagonists worth mentioning and was, I think, much the inferior book for those reasons.

THE CAIRO AFFAIR also resembles the novels by Gerald Seymour in that there's no clear winner among the players, none of whom might be considered heroes or villains in the usual sense constructed in popular fiction, and whatever victory is achieved is perhaps Pyrrhic in nature.

Olen Steinhauer's perspective in his espionage novels that I've read to date is relatively unique for an American writer. From his first series set in Eastern Europe, I thought he was a European national, but later learned that he was raised in Virginia but lived for a while in Budapest. This apparently gives him a worldview that frees him from a de rigueur focus on the U.S. or British spy agencies in his plots. True, the CIA plays a key role in THE CAIRO AFFAIR, but in the end the Egyptian intelligence service takes center stage. I appreciate that lack of provincialism.

A key component of the plot is the lead-up to the recent overthrow of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. This caused me to pause briefly to consider the change in spy novel venues since I began reading them Back in The Day, i.e. the time of the Cold War when the chief antagonist (from a Western standpoint) was almost always the Machiavellian Soviet KGB and the battleground like as not somewhere in the ideological trenches of Europe. How times have changed! After years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, I wonder more than just a little if the average American thriller reader is left caring much about what happened in Libya, what's happening now in Syria, or the sectarian Muslim violence sure to escalate in a Hussein-free Iraq and in a U.S.-vacated Afghanistan; it's either weariness with the constant, deadly bickering and/or a growing isolationism. Happily, the intricacy and ingenuity of THE CAIRO AFFAIR storyline mitigated any lack of vested interest or sympathy I personally felt for the time and place.

Steinhauer is a major talent in the genre. I'll continue to read whatever he writes.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An espionage novel a la Le Carre or Deighton, January 28, 2014
By 
Brian Baker (Santa Clarita, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Hardcover)
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This is a stand-alone novel by Steinhauer, not part of the Milo Weaver "Tourist" series. As such, it should be judged on that basis, and you should also be aware it's not a part of that series.

As the story begins, American diplomat Emmett Kohl is brutally murdered in front of his wife Sophia as they're dining at a French restaurant in Hungary. This sets off a ripple of events that spreads through the international intelligence community as the agencies of several countries get involved in trying to find out why this act of brutality took place.

Did it have something to do with Sophia's illicit extra-marital affair with an American spook based in Cairo? Emmett's knowledge of an aborted CIA op known as "Stumbler", conceived to overthrow the tyrannical regime of Muammar Khaddafi? Was it an echo of something that Emmett and Sophia became embroiled in decades ago when, as a young newly-married couple they'd gone adventure-seeking in Yugoslavia as that country's civil war was just breaking out?

These questions, and several more, are the nexus around which the plot of this story revolves. We follow the investigation as players from several countries try to resolve them; Egyptian agents and officers, CIA operators, even Sophia herself.

It's an engaging tale, but certainly not a "thriller", if that's what you're looking for. It's more a "procedural" story, with some complex turns.

The characterizations are, for the most part, full and effective. The portrayal of the complexity of the espionage game is certainly reminiscent of Le Carre or Deighton, as I said, and Graham Greene also comes to mind.

The biggest drawback in the book is that Steinhauer does do some jumping around in time frame in order to tell parallel stories of how events unfold, and sometimes the time jumps aren't portrayed clearly, leading to some confusion (at least for me) at times.

It's a somewhat leisurely tale told well.

Four stars.
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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of Betrayal, February 13, 2014
By 
JoeV "Reader" (Arlington Hts, IL) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Hardcover)
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The Cairo Affair is a fictionalized behind the scenes look at the machinations of the recent Arab Spring; the story told through a wide and varied set of characters, many of them members of the international "intelligence" community - read spies. Unlike the author's previous books the sense/description of place - including sights, sounds and smells - is mixed. Less so is character development - many of the secondary and tertiary players here blending together, (begging the question of why so many.) And the narrative shifts repeatedly between these characters, sliding back and forth in time and place, which may cause confusion. This reader found it more as a "gimmick" or even a crutch, prolonging the story by simply reliving scene after scene through a different POV.

The constant comparison here is with LeCarre, which I believe is to mean "cerebral", and to give credit where credit is due, this isn't a "mindless romp", (and to lend further credence to the comparison, an "amateur" dives into the murky depths of the espionage world after a harrowing event.) But the one sharp constant note here and the driving force behind the plot of The Cairo Affair is betrayal - lots and lots of betrayal. (This "friend or foe" is a prevalent theme in the Steinhauer books I have read, with characters/protagonists constantly looking over their shoulders.)

So unfortunately the end result is not only a muddled, but a very predictable and repetitive story-line. The steam long gone by the book's disappointing fizzle of a conclusion, and proof positive of Occam's razor.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE CONCATENATING EFFECTS OF BETRAYAL, February 1, 2014
This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Hardcover)
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In 2011, two days after the uprising in Libya against the regime of Muammar Ghadafi, CIA analyst Jibril Aziz learns that five influential Libyan exiles, have disappeared -- kidnapped –from London, Brussels, Paris and New York. He goes to his supervisor and says, “They’re doing it.” The wheels of fate start grinding and over the course of this book, most of the unfortunates who find themselves caught in its gears are chewed up and spit out, if still alive, the worse for wear. What’s “it”? Stumbler, a secret plan, devised two years before to use men like the ones who have just vanished to lead the revolt against the Libyan dictator, but under the thumbs of America. The plan was supposed to have been dropped but here it is again. Is the CIA behind it?

Aziz heads back into the field to talk to his contacts in Libya. En route, he stops off in Hungary to talk to an old contact, Emmett Kohl, who is posted now to the U.S. consul’s office in Budapest but used to be in Cairo. Afterwards, Emmett and his wife Sophie meet for dinner. The dinner turns sour –Emmett knows she was unfaithful in Cairo. But before their dispute can be resolved, a stranger –East European, prison tattoos up and down his arms—shows up at their table and shoots Emmett –chest, face—he’s dead.

Thus starts a complicated novel –a novel of one surprise after another—told by master spy novelist Olen Steinhauer. In this book, everyone lies to everyone else, or at least conceals necessary truths. (Sophie confronts her old lover in Cairo and he apologizes to her for concealing facts. “I made a mistake, and I’m sorry. But I’m telling you now: I won’t do it again.” The narrator’s comments? “That, perhaps, was the biggest lie.”)

The cumulative effect of all this deceit –there’s a fair amount of violence too- is jolting, but it’s also absolutely engrossing. Steinhauer is a master at conveying mood in a phrase, he’s good at rendering character and he handles the most complicated narratives with absolute control. As complicated as the plot of this book is at points, and it’s quite complicated, it never spins out of hand and the reader’s interest in what is happening never flags. Once you start the book, you will not want to put it down.

The narrative stretches from the early 1990s and a disintegrating, increasingly violent Yugoslavia, rent by bad memories and ethnic hatreds, to 2011 and the short-lived hope of the Arab Spring. But this isn’t a book about hopes. One character, a contract soldier hired by the U.S. to do its heavy work in Egypt, muses: “There could be no new world … because the people who filled it would be the same ones as yesterday.” He’s right. The world that’s described here has little room for idealism –and most hopes die as soon as they are birthed.

If I were to try to summarize its theme in a phrase it would be this: it’s a novel about the concatenating effects of betrayal across a span of twenty years. And boy, is it good!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Major Letdown Mr Steinhauer, April 18, 2014
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This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Hardcover)
Steinhauer's first 5 books were unique and interesting, a new way to develop stories and tie it all in in the final book with a historical mix. His next 3 book trilogy with Milo Weaver was simply outstanding, as good as it gets, right there with LeCarre, Forsyth and Greene as authors. This book was so disappointing, character buildup poor, characters themselves uninteresting, not sure what his point was in writing the book. The Stan and Sofie relationship shallow, would have liked to see more on Emmit as to character development, and the plot line was disjointed.
Simply put, to much about a weak immoral Sofia, a poor weak uninteresting character in Stan, and no main positive character who takes charge in the book. Mr Steinhauer, please go back to Milo Weaver's character
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Twisting Turning Tale of Betrayal, January 26, 2014
This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Hardcover)
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Set in the turbulence of recent events in North Africa and the past turbulence of the Balkans, The Cairo Affair is a wonderful spy and political thriller in which betrayal - both marital and political - and the ever widening circle of deceit, lying, death, and pain which comes with betrayal, is the main theme. Centered on the history of an American diplomat, Emmett Kohl and his wife Sophie, Olen Stienhauer weaves a twisting and turning narrative of multiple subplots with a cast of characters who are shown in all their humanness and flaws.

When Emmett is murdered in a crowded Budapest restaurant in front of his wife Sophie, who has just confessed to having an affair, a chain of events is set in place that drives Sophie to return to Cairo, where Emmett had previously been stationed, to find out who had murdered him and why. The search takes the reader on a journey twenty years into the past when the Kohl's come face to face with the developing conflict in Yugoslavia and choices made there that will affect them for the rest of their lives. As Sophie seeks answers, a plan, long thought dead, to take over the Libyan revolution by the CIA, crosses her path and we are thrust headlong in the political intrigue and danger which affects, to one degree or another, the cast of characters and the stability of North Africa, including Egypt, dealing with its own issues.

In a style in which overlapping point-of-view narratives by key characters move us closer to finding out who ordered Emmett's murder, Stienhauer does a great job of keeping us guessing at every turn as to who it was and why. The result is truly a page turner which takes us under the skin and into the hearts, minds, and motivations of people tasked with keeping and uncovering secrets - which are often sold to the highest bidder.

This was my first Olen Stienhauer novel. It won't be my last. It kept my interest from beginning to end with wonderful characters and the narrative style which provided overlapping points of view provided a wider view of the multiple story lines.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Still a page turner, yet I liked his past books more, March 5, 2014
This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Hardcover)
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As an avid fan of the fleshed out characters, riveting plots in Steinhauer's past books (have read all but one) I thoroughly enjoy learning about countries, history and people via his tales. This back and forth in time plot and somehow less multi-dimensional characters made this book less engrossing for me. Plus I could not feel any empathy or interest in the main characters. Am sure I am in the minority and look forward to reading his next book, nonetheless
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The New Spy Master, January 28, 2014
By 
Jim Tenuto (San Diego, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Hardcover)
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Olen Steinhauer has requested a change of venue. I first came across his five novel arc set in Eastern Europe, nuanced books that pitted Socialism’s true believers against an ultimately corrupt State and State Security apparatus. His three Milo Weaver novels are also quite entertaining, though the story line smacks a bit of other “rogue element” type spy stories.

In THE CAIRO AFFAIR he moves to Egypt, shortly after the Arab Spring revolution that unseated Hosni Mubarak, but before the uprising in Libya. Sophie Kohl is dining with her husband, Emmett, in Budapest. He has just confronted her about her infidelity during his diplomatic tour in Cairo. Then, before her eyes, he is assassinated. Sophie, a child of entitlement, departs from her expected role of grieving widow to hunt answers about her husband’s death. This takes her back to Cairo into the arms of her former lover, CIA agent Stan Bertolli.

Mixed in is a nixed CIA op, Stumbler, the intelligence agencies of Hungary, Egypt and Libya, wonderfully naïve characters who are often defeated by their more ruthless counterparts, the ambiguous realm of contractors, and duplicitous people who profess that information wants to be free as they sell it to the highest bidder.

Steinhauer tells the story from a number of points of view, though always in the third person. The layers stack up and we come to understand the story in almost a Rashomon-like sense. The story is raw, the events so recent that it feels like Steinhauer is picking at a scab. One of the blurbs suggests that Steinhauer is the new Le Carre, a favorable comparison if we are talking about the Le Carre who wrote the Smiley novels, THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL, and A PERFECT SPY.

These are not superheroes, special ops cartoons, or sci-fi-like protagonists. These are ordinary people, working stiffs whose work is espionage. In bringing these characters to life, Steinhauer has given us one his best works.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different kind of spy novel -- very well written, February 21, 2014
By 
Sandy Kay (Twin Cities, Minnesota USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Hardcover)
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The usual spy novel has a protagonist (who may be a hero or an anti-hero), who has a mission and either has a lot of action or a lot of information gathering. Most often the protagonist successfully completes the mission or at least survives the mission. Many of these are centered around American interests in the esionage world.

This is not that novel.

I really liked The Tourist and the other Milo Weaver books and was expecting this book to be similar, but with a different locale and different characters. I could not have been more wrong.

This book doesn't have a single main character. Instead there are several different characters who carry the narrative through the book and whose lives intersect. There is Jibril, a Libyan-American who works for the CIA in the U.S. and who is passionate about the possibiity of Libyan freedon from Ghadafi. Then there is Sophie Kohl, the wife of Emmett, an American consul employee who had been stationed in Cairo and was now in Hungary. Other American spies are Stan Bertolli and John Calhoun (both based in Cairo). Omar Halawi works in the Egyptian intelligence agency. There are other characters (American, Egyptian, and Serbian) who are involved in the story as well, but the main one of these is Zora Balasevic.

The narrative switches between 1991, when Sophie and Emmett were newlyweds, and the present. The 1991 action may seem irrelevant at first, but it is critical background to the story. In the present, the action really begins when Emmett is killed in a restaurant in Hungary shortly after Sophie has confirmed that she had an affair with Stan when they were in Cairo. Sophie then goes to Cairo to try to understand why her husbamnd was killed.

This book is very well written, but it was hard for me to really settle into. I'm used to having a spy hero I can get invested in. In addition to the multiple characters, none of them was the classic "good guy" that makes me want the person to survive and succeed. A lot of the characters ranged from morally ambiguous to shady so I never cared much about any of the characters.

Even though I didn't care about the characters, the author skillfully wove together events from 1991 to a few years before the book started to the events that happened after Emmett Kohl was killed. Readers will think they know what it going on but there are layers you don't always expect. This book is also a lot more about the internal life of the characters than about pure action. It was also interesting to read a book that is not written in the "good Americans vs. evil governments" mode.

I enjoyed this book, though not as much as I liked The Tourist and that was more due to my desire to have a dero to cheer for than to the quality of the book. Readers who enjoy a good spy novel should definitely read this one.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Average spy book, April 4, 2014
By 
David W. Annand (Knoxville, TN, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cairo Affair (Kindle Edition)
The book is fairly interesting, but the storyline gets so convoluted that it was difficult to finish. By the end of the book, I really didn't care who did it.
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The Cairo Affair
The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer (Hardcover - March 18, 2014)
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