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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.
25 of 28 people found this review helpful
'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.
38 of 46 people found this review helpful