The Cairo Affair by Olen SteinhauerThe Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer
Narrator: Edoardo Ballerini
Published by Macmillan Audio on March 18, 2014
Source: Library
Genres: Spy Thriller
Length: 12 hrs 22 mins
Format: Audiobook
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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.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a good espionage book. I’ve read a couple of barely mediocre ones, but that’s beside the point. My library had The Cairo Affair available on audio and the title rang a bell, so I borrowed. Turned out that was a really good choice. It’s nice to start of the new year with a winner.

The story is told through several viewpoints, but it was always clear whose eyes we were seeing situations through. It was interesting, although not surprising, how much the same event could vary from viewpoint to viewpoint. The characters were all real, there were not over the top superagents, no too good to be true loyalists, no overly intelligent office worker able to predict everything. They are all doing the best they can given their abilities, limited knowledge and resources. Okay, maybe “the best” is not quite true, because we do have people willing to kill, to betray their country and lovers, and they are not necessarily the people we would naturally suspect. The story also jumps back and forth in time, telling how we came to this point. I, personally, found the transitions clear and well interlaced into the story, even on audio.

I’m rather embarrassed to admit that my knowledge of current affairs in my own country is sadly lacking, let alone what happens in Egypt and Libya. I don’t know much about the Arab Spring and I only remember bits about Muammar Gaddafi. The Cairo Affair gives enough background so I could understand what was going on, but also left me wanting to learn more in general about the time period in the region. It did make me feel like I need to do more non-fiction reading.

I have to imagine this had to be a tough one for the narrator. The cast of characters is huge and it jumps back and forth, but he did a good job with it. He kept me involved in the story and I was rarely, if ever, confused about who the focus was on at the moment or who was speaking. I don’t have any idea if his accents were good or not. I do always find the American accents funny, so flat compared to others.  Or is that the book I’m listening to now? Both probably.

This one is definitely worth listening to/reading. It’s a slow book though, don’t expect all the action and shoot-outs of some spy novels. It’s tension-filled but not a nail-biter. For me, that worked well, given the topics and people. It seemed more realistic. For fiction, it felt like a glimpse inside the world of global politics and espionage.

About Olen Steinhauer

Olen Steinhauer grew up in Virginia, and has lived throughout the US and Europe. He spent a year in Romania on a Fulbright grant, an experience that helped inspire his first five books. He now lives in Hungary with his wife and daughter.


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