All the Old Knives by Olen SteinhauerAll the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer
Narrator: Arik Fliakos, Juliana Francis Kelly
Published by Macmillan Audio on March 13, 2015
Genres: Spy Thriller
Length: 5 hrs 28 mins
Format: Audiobook
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Nine years ago, terrorists hijacked a plane in Vienna. Somehow, a rescue attempt staged from the inside went terribly wrong and everyone on board was killed.

Members of the CIA stationed in Vienna during that time were witness to this terrible tragedy, gathering intel from their sources during those tense hours, assimilating facts from the ground with a series of texts coming from one of their agents inside the plane. So when it all went wrong, the question had to be asked: Had their agent been compromised, and how?

Two of those agents, Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison, were lovers at the time, and in fact that was the last night they spent together. Until now. That night Celia decided she'd had enough; she left the agency, married and had children, and is living an ordinary life in the suburbs. Henry is still an analyst, and has traveled to California to see her one more time, to relive the past, maybe, or to put it behind him once and for all.

But neither of them can forget that long-ago question: Had their agent been compromised, and how? And each of them also wonders what role tonight's dinner companion might have played in the way things unfolded.

I listened to the audio version of All the Old Knives, which I think may have been a mistake. The plot is interesting: former lovers, Celia a former spy, Henry still in the game, meet for dinner. Henry’s goal is to put to rest once and for all a case from years ago that involved a plane hijacking, or at least that’s what he tells us his goal is- he doesn’t tell Celia that when she agrees to meet him. Of course, she has her own reasons for coming to the restaurant.

The story takes place during this one meal, but we go back and forth in time to the hijacking. the book alternates between Henry and Celia’s viewpoints, with a different narrator for each. Most of the time, switches in viewpoint and time period don’t bother me, but I think the two narrators made this one tough. Celia’s “voice” threw me out of the story every time. She just didn’t sound like Celia to me, she was too young, sounded almost innocent. I think I personally would have been happier had the male narrator just read the whole story. He sounded like a spy novel to me, while she sounded like chic lit. Not fair, I know, but that’s how it felt to me. It also made a lot more sense to me once I realized they were saying Flughafen and not “flu coffin,” which is just one of those problems you sometimes hit with audios. I kept wondering how the flu was going to be involved, assuming the hijacked plane was the coffin.

The plot itself was interesting. I like the final confrontation of the dinner, while having the events leading up to it slowly revealed. I like the two points of view, neither of which is the full truth. It’s not a long book, but Steinhauer packs a lot of tension and drama into it. I didn’t really care about either of the characters, but that’s beside the point. I didn’t need to care about them to be interested in the story. Overall, I think I would have ended up rating it higher had I read it in print.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending either. A little disappointed maybe.

I’ve listened to two of Steinhauer’s novels now, and I have to say I enjoyed The Cairo Affair much more. It might not have been as clever as All the Old Knives’ one dinner set up, but it was a fuller book in my opinion. I guess All the Old Knives is going to be made into a movie produced by Chockstone Pictures and Nick Wechsler Productions, directed by Neil Burger. It might actually work better as a movie for me than the audiobook did.

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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