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The Cairo Affair | [Olen Steinhauer]

The Cairo Affair

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

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3.7 (368 )
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  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 03-21-14
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 03-21-14

    "... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^

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    "In the widening gyre"

    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.

    22 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    antonio genthod, Switzerland 07-31-14
    antonio genthod, Switzerland 07-31-14 Member Since 2011

    A man's got to do what a man's got to do..

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    "Not engaging..."

    The book is off to a great start : the reader is immediately taken into the suspense of what appears to be a very captivating story where personal passions, politics and mistery are intermingled and the main characters seem like the pieces of a grand chess game that is played in Cairo, Budapest, Washington....But little by little the readers' excitment fades away : too many characters , too many useless details and too many levels of a story too complicated . Steinhauer knows how to write : his characters are credible and you can smell the scent of Cairo when it talks about the city , but , by losing focus,he fails to maintain the right tension and the sense of purpose and loses the reader attention. By the end of the book i was no longer engaged ...and was glad it was finished.


    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mel USA 03-23-14
    Mel USA 03-23-14 Member Since 2009
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    "Global Ripples"

    '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.

    36 of 44 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shauna Pasadena, CA, United States 04-24-14
    Shauna Pasadena, CA, United States 04-24-14 Member Since 2015
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    "The Cairo Affair - a fragmented plot"

    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.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rollin Cholula, Mexico 03-30-14
    Rollin Cholula, Mexico 03-30-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Outstanding spy fiction set in contemporary Egypt"
    Where does The Cairo Affair rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    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.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Sophie Cole and John Calhoun. Both are complex and interesting characters who evolve as you read.


    What does Edoardo Ballerini bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    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.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    This was my first experience with Steinhauer. It won't be my last!

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    W Perry Hall 03-20-14 Member Since 2015

    Batti il ferro finché è caldo

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    "Smart Spy Suspense Story Starring Emma Bovary"

    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.

    6 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pita Miami 01-18-15
    Pita Miami 01-18-15 Member Since 2013

    Life long compulsive reader & lover of recorded books

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    "A bit slow for a spy thriller"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    The pace is all wrong...which makes the plot loose momentum. At a point in the story we are not sure why we need to go on...


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    The characters were very promising. It may be that this story never becomes the spy thriller we went in for because it gets weighted down by the characters and their doomed relationships.


    Would you listen to another book narrated by Edoardo Ballerini?

    Yes. The fact that this book did not do it for me is not the narrator's fault.


    Could you see The Cairo Affair being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    I could see it becoming a movie. A good script might be able to inject this story with the adrenaline it needs.


    Any additional comments?

    If you are looking for entertainment along these lines, go to The Tourist and skip this. If you want complicated characters and a convoluted plot that makes you think, Le Carre does it better.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cholmondeley Santa Barbara, CA United States 04-13-14
    Cholmondeley Santa Barbara, CA United States 04-13-14 Member Since 2006
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    "Who's on Third? Or Second or First? Or at Home?"

    1. This is not a Dept. Q novel.
    2. This is not like a Dept. Q novel - no delightfully goofy characters.
    3. It's a spy story and probably a reasonably good one, but I couldn't remember who was who or who had done what to whom, when.
    4. I appreciated the sound of the narrator's voice and the author's (translator's?) words and I got the gist of the story but didn't follow it from chapter to chapter.
    5. I didn't play it during a long car trip and it might be good for that. I don't think it would be confusing to read, but I wouldn't put this on a list of books to actually read - ever.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Richard Delman San Francisco 04-01-14
    Richard Delman San Francisco 04-01-14 Member Since 2013

    I am a 65-year-old psychologist, married for 25 years, with two sons who are 25 and 22. I love reviewing the books and the feedback I get.

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    "Spook books: just not my kind of thing."

    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.

    11 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    cristina Somerville, MA, United States 04-07-14
    cristina Somerville, MA, United States 04-07-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Excellently plotted"

    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.

    4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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