June Book Review

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

I read this book in April, but as you know, May was a little busy with boxes, moving and cleaning, so no time for a book review. I’d like to say I’m all settled in but that’s not quite true, there are still plenty of boxes that need to be emptied … or maybe just donated? Not my books of course, they’d be hard to give up.

The Cairo Affair was perfect for those airport lounges and long plane flights in April. Nothing too strenuous, but a very enjoyable, intricately layered, spy yarn. What starts with a murder leaving an 'innocent' expat American widow, slowly unravels into a big web of intrigue, double cross, more murder and cross-border shenanigans. 

Sophie Kohl has just confessed to her husband, a career diplomat, that she had an affair while they were stationed in Cairo when he's suddenly shot dead in the restaurant in Hungary where they're having dinner. 

Since Sophie was told that it was Stan, the CIA agent in Cairo she'd had the affair with, who had told her husband, she calls him and confronts him. Stan, still very much in love with Sophie, wants to help. But both of them lie to each other, as does everyone else in the story that follows, and we learn that not all is as it is portrayed. Who works for whom? Who's double crossing which organization? And who's paying for what exactly?

The author has an excellent grip on current affairs and seamlessly blends past and present events across the globe, including Egypt, the former Yugoslavia and Libya. In a time when we no longer have the iron curtain and the cold war, we now find ‘freelance’ spies selling information to the highest bidder in an effort to raise capital for a cause in their own countries, of course with disastrous consequences. 

There were a number of unexpected, though very plausible, plot twists, and the characters were drawn in a fine enough detail to come alive without have been labored over. 

My only objection was a rather brutal description of war crimes, and some heinous crimes against women in particular. It seems to be the season for that, if the news media is anything to go by. A very sad state of affairs which almost made me stop reading. It seemed unnecessarily detailed for the flow of the story, but that's my personal opinion.

I will probably seek out more books by this author, especially since there are a few more airport lounges and long plane rides coming up later this month. And there's just nothing like a spy novel to liven up international travel!