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Spy fiction at its best
on March 25, 2015
“In only three days, five politically active Libyan exiles vanished from the face of the earth” in different countries around the globe. Thus opens The Cairo Affair, a complex, multilayered spy novel featuring a young American couple, Sophie and Emmett Kohl — a mid-ranked diplomat and his wife of twenty years, a housewife, recently relocated from Cairo to Budapest. Somehow, the Kohls are connected to the disappearance of those five Libyans. Therein lies the tale.
With consummate skill, Olen Steinhauer relates the tale of Sophie and Emmett through a mind-bending series of chapters, alternating from the point of view of one of the principal characters to another: Sophie and four men, all intelligence agents, who play major roles in her slowly growing understanding of how her life and that of her husband are linked to the Libyans. It’s a masterful display of plotting, not always fully unpredictable but nonetheless surprising to the very end. The action moves from Cairo to Budapest to Germany and the Libyan desert.
This is spy fiction at its best.
The Cairo Affair is the ninth of Olen Steinhauer’s ten spy novels. He began his career with a brilliant five-book cycle of thrillers set in a fictional Eastern European country that artfully portrayed a society under Communism, with one novel for each of the five decades starting with the 1940s. (You can find reviews of all five on this blog.) Later, he wrote a trilogy of best-selling stories featuring Milo Weaver of the CIA, which top reviewers ranked with John Le Carre’s classic spy novels as the best in the genre.