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The Cairo Affair: A Novel Hardcover – March 18, 2014

3.8 out of 5 stars 481 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2014: At a time when brutal Norwegian murder mysteries are still in fashion, it’s nice to get lost in a brainy, page-turner of a spy story, one that feels both classic and fresh. This is Steinhauer’s ninth novel, the first since his successful Tourist trilogy. A standalone, The Cairo Affair feels timely and relevant, cleverly relying on recent world events--a Wikileaks transcript, Gaddafi’s overthrow, the Arab Spring. More than an espionage thriller, this is a complicated geo-political story and, at its core, the story of a flawed marriage, full of betrayals and dangerous lies. It’s also an ambitious undertaking for Steinhauer. While his Tourist series featured rogue CIA agent Milo Weaver, The Cairo Affair is a complex narrative, entwining the stories of multiple characters, primarily a disloyal wife, her ex-lover, an Egyptian intelligence agent, and a CIA analyst. Pinballing across time and place, from Hungary to Libya, Yugoslavia to Egypt, featuring spooks named Rainman, Stumbler, and Sledgehammer, the puzzle pieces come together in a moody, low-tech, and unpredictable reveal. Having followed Steinhauer’s trajectory over the years, it’s a pleasure to experience a writer pushing himself--into le Carre territory, no less. --Neal Thompson

From Booklist

*Starred Review* One of the two best espionage novelists working today, Steinhauer follows his acclaimed Milo Weaver trilogy with a stunning stand-alone that is as emotionally rich as it is layered with intrigue. Budapest, March 2011: career diplomat Emmett Kohl is shot dead in a restaurant, in front of his disbelieving wife, Sophie. Determined to find out why, she follows a trail that leads to the American embassy in a tumultuous Cairo; to the revolution under way in neighboring Libya; to Langley, Virginia; and to her own ill-fated honeymoon in Eastern Europe. It has something to do with “Stumbler,” a CIA plan for regime change, but, as we shadow a half-­dozen key players, the hows and whys prove maddeningly elusive—and, in the words of a veteran spy: “When you live in a house of mirrors, the only way to stay alive is to believe that every reflection is real.” A complex tale of the Arab Spring, WikiLeaks, the CIA, and a marriage, this leaves us with the unsettling feeling that, despite all the information won, lost, hoarded, and put to use, the world of intelligence is no stronger than the fragile, fallible humans who navigate it. It has become de rigeur to compare Steinhauer to le Carré, but it’s nearly time to pass the torch: for the next generation, it’s Steinhauer who will become the standard by which others are measured. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Given the success of Steinhauer’s last three books, the publisher is backing this one with a six-figure marketing campaign and a 150,000-copy print run. Patrons will be asking for it. --Keir Graff
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (March 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250036135
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250036131
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (481 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #515,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mr. Joe TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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