Sophie Kohl is living her worst nightmare. Minutes after she confesses to her husband, a mid-level diplomat at the American embassy in Hungary, that she had an affair while they were in Cairo, he is shot in the head and killed.
Stan Bertolli, a Cairo-based CIA agent, has fielded his share of midnight calls. But his heart skips a beat when he hears the voice of the only woman he ever truly loved, calling to ask why her husband has been assassinated.
Omar Halawi has worked in Egyptian intelligence for years, and he knows how to play the game. Foreign agents pass him occasional information, he returns the favor, and everyone's happy. But the murder of a diplomat in Hungary has ripples all the way to Cairo, and Omar must follow the fall-out wherever it leads.
American analyst Jibril Aziz knows more about Stumbler, a covert operation rejected by the CIA, than anyone. So when it appears someone else has obtained a copy of the blueprints, Jibril alone knows the danger it represents.
As these players converge in Cairo in The Cairo Affair, Olen Steinhauer's masterful manipulations slowly unveil a portrait of a marriage, a jigsaw puzzle of loyalty and betrayal, against a dangerous world of political games where allegiances are never clear and outcomes are never guaranteed.
©2014 Third State, Inc. (P)2013 Macmillan Audio
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
I love great genre fiction. Steinhauer represents some of the very best of modern espionage literature. While he hasn't yet reached the level of le Carré, he is now firmly on the top shelf of literary spy fiction with peers like le Carré, Littell, Furst, etc.
The Cairo Affair is an important bookmark in espionage fiction. In this 21st Century, post 9-11 world, Steinhauer (along with le Carré) is the goto fiction writer to understand the nuances of private-contract espionage, post-Soviet global realignments, and the moral failings of a waning American empire (all with a non-US-centric outlook on espionage and foreign policy). The Cairo Affair highlights the fact that the CIA is slowly losing its place as the gravitational center of the spy universe and seems to have lost its principled, idealistic foundations as well.
After reading a number of mediocre books where the plot went nowhere, "The Cairo Affair" was a breath of fresh air. The plot unveils in layers, each chapter revealing a new shade of meaning to what you knew before. The characters find out what is happening right along with you. Each one is holding his or her own piece of the puzzle...and in the end it all comes together seamlessly. It's hard to say much without spoilers, so I will simply recommend this for those of you who like spy thrillers and intrigue that is ultimately human.
That's hard to say (I've listened to so many!). But compared to other spy stories, such as Daniel Silva, this is certainly superior.
Sophie Cole and John Calhoun. Both are complex and interesting characters who evolve as you read.
Unlike other US narrators, he stays away from American twang and maintains a stable tone throughout. I'll certainly look for other narrations by him.
There were several, but one that stands out was Joe Calhoun's (a supposed tough guy contracted for dirty jobs by the CIA) love of poetry and his connection to Beth.
This was my first experience with Steinhauer. It won't be my last!
So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. *If my reviews help, please let me know.
'Nothing is ever what it seems' -- hold onto that mantra; it will serve you well as a reminder while traveling through the pages of this globe spinning political conspiracy that will have you feeling like you are navigating in the modern political panorama through a house of distorted mirrors. A smart, complex story of espionage that relies not on the thriller aspects, but on not knowing the intricacies of a tangled web of spy vs. spy.
The novel spans 20 tumultuous years, 1991-2011: Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, the Arab Spring, civil wars, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yugoslavia... and leaked political cables via WikiLeaks. The historical significance of those years is powerful when compressed and reflected on, and I suggest listening carefully to the *Collection Strategies* that precede chapter 1. The story jumps back and forth through the years, and employs different points of view, which helps once you chalk up any *contradictions* to point of view and not actual contradictions . The cast of characters is daunting at times, some critics suggest superfluous. I didn't find that the case. Steinhauer keeps a sharp focus on a twisting plot of foggy allegiances and surprising betrayals; the characters' weaknesses and strengths are revealed subtly.
I admit to stumbling with reckoning a bored, blonde, manicured, middle-aged, lady-that-lunches, being recruited to work in such a deadly theater. (Who knew the days of the obvious iron bowler hatted, or metal toothed giant no good-niks would give way to....me.) Maybe a case of the perfect front? Nothing is ever what it seems...
I liked D8U's thoughtful comments. As much as I also love this genre -- I read le Carré, Furst, Littell, Deighton, Oppenheim -- this was my first novel by Steinhauer and am glad to see Audible offers several Steinhauer titles from which to choose. Ideally, Ballerini would be the narrator for each novel; as always, first rate narration with this novel, which was no easy task when interpreting so many diverse characters. About all you can be sure of with The Cairo Affair is that it comes together into a good, slick read, and may possibly leave some of you trying to quiet some uncomfortable thoughts -- beyond which Steinhauer novel to read next.
The Cairo Affair presents itself as a thriller, a murder mystery. The wife of a diplomat sets out to find the man behind the man who killed her husband. Or is it the woman behind the man who...well, you know.
Olen Steinhauer writes beautifully. He evokes visions of Egypt and other lands that are intriguing and worth exploring. His characters, especially the veteran diplomats and spies, are individual and multifaceted. He reveals their strategies and their frailties. Some characters are deep and authentic while others are cold. With the exception of one, the women were not as well written as the men.
Based on my limited knowledge of regional accents, Edoardo Ballerini's narration is on point. He has a wide range and given the number of characters in this book, did a masterful job of recreating their voices.
The story line was a problem. It was if the book were written on glass tablets, shattered, and then pasted together by someone who didn't know the plot. The characters, the timelines, the decades and the locations jump around and cannot find their way back to center. It becomes tedious. I didn't feel, as some other reviewers stated, there were too many characters. My criticism is that the disjointed story lines ruined the pacing.
The Cairo Affair didn't make it to my top ten list. Nevertheless, because of his writing style, I will try another book by Olen Steinhauer.
Avid audible listener for over 10 years.
This a good "spy" thriller mostly because of the narration and the subject: the Arab spring. Set in Europe and Egypt it involves the revolution in Libya. Although it is sort of "old news" its much more current that anything involving Russia and the cold war. There is also something going on in the "background" that keeps you guessing. I won't give it away.
The narration is great. You would swear that there are several narrators instead of just Edoardo Ballerini. This is one of those books that is a much better listen than read.
As others have noted, Olen Steinhauer is the new John leCarre. Though maybe not at the same level as the Tourist series, this is a very solid book that should appeal to fans of that series and to the genre.
I'm an avid listener. Audio books are a mini-vacation for me. They fill my "need to read" when I don't have time - which is most of the time. Great element of multi-tasking!
This story has similar themes of loyalty and betrayal, who can trust whom, etc., but with completely new characters and a contemporary setting. (An attempted overthrow of Kadafi in Lybia) Lots of characters from many nationalities are expertly narrated by Ballerini. He is excellent with both men and women, and his accent rings true (at least, consistent) with all characters. If you want every detail of a plot tied up with a nice bow, don't listen to this story: Life doesn't work that way, so why should this tale? I hope that this signals that there may be another book with some of these characters.
I qualify this review by saying I don't read many spy novels. I saw the Audible promo, read the description and, although I've never before heard of Olen Steinhauer, I thought I'd take a chance. After I'd listened only about 20 minutes, I was hooked. Mr. Steinhauer makes the reading experience pleasurable with good dialogue, an intriguing subtext and setting and a suspenseful storyline involving spies in Cairo and a plot (or not) in Libya to overthrow Gaddafi.
And, he splashes enough character development that you like or dislike the protagonist. Here, I felt toward the main character Sophie about the same as I did toward Madame Bovary, at least for most of the book, in that they had similar *character defects*; the latter's were much worse. I liked the ending here though, unlike Madame B.
And, of course, Ballerini did his usual fine job.
Maybe spy novel afficionados will gripe with whether it's realistic or intelligent enough. I don't know.
All I can say was that I enjoyed the heck out of it.
I think the only spook book I've ever read was The Spy who came in from the cold, and I read it because I had seen the movie, which I loved, and also because Frank Muller narrated it. I will listen to it again. I bought this book primarily because I love Edoardo Ballerini, who can, in my view, do virtually no wrong. However, the entire genre just does not appeal to me. Liars lying to liars, with multiple layers of lying above and below; cloak and dagger plots which are so convoluted that they are almost impossible to follow; characters who turn out to be uninteresting drones, living the expat life and being pushed all over the world so that they can't live normal domestic lives: you put this all together and it just bores me to tears. Mr. Steinhauer can write, and Mr. Ballerini is simply a delight to listen to. The book takes place mostly in Cairo, as the title indicates. There are a number of people who work in the CIA office in Cairo, and the plot centers on their involvement with a spook operation called Stumbler. Stumbler is a project whose intent is apparently to kidnap the Libyan revolution against Qaddafi by moving in at key moments and plaacing American personnel in positions of power, so that Libya post-Qaddafi will be manageable, and "friendly to American business interests." Fine. It's a fair bet that any character you might find a little bit interesting will be found in an alley with his throat slashed in just a few pages. There really is no one person who is the protagonist in the book. There are several parts which are named for individuals in the story, like Part I: Stan. Or Part II: John. As a structure for a plot this is dull. There is so much time-shifting that finally you don't care about any of these individuals. I gave up about two-thirds of the way through, which seems to be happening to me a good it lately. Maybe I am hitting the bottom of the barrel in the detective/thriller genre. There are a few writers whom I find wonderful: Tim Hallinan, Martin Cruz Smith, John Lescroarts; and there are a number of individual works by authors whom I generally don't care for, and then there are a few bright newcomers, but there sure is a lot of bad stuff out there, books that cry out for editors, or books that clearly are targeted at groups to which I do not belong. So, once again, this book is going to be exactly the thing for people who like this sort of thing. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful than that.
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