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Book Author: Olen Steinhauer

THE CAIRO AFFAIR by Olen Steinhauer: Book Review

Sophie and Emmett Kohl started out as a typical young couple in 1991.  Fresh from Harvard, they married and decided to spend their honeymoon in Europe, avoiding the usual tourist places and going “where history’s happening,” as Emmett described it to his wife.

Emmett’s career took him to various embassies, and Sophie went with him.  Slightly bored but not knowing what she really wanted from life, it was an easy path to take.  And so in 2001, sitting in a Budapest restaurant with Emmett, Sophie is shocked when Emmett confronts her with two startling statements. 

First is the accusation that she had an affair in Cairo with a colleague of his, Stan Bertolli, and that Stan had called Emmett to tell him about it.  Sophie reluctantly admits the affair, telling Emmett that one of the reasons she did this was because he had changed so much in their time in Cairo, emotionally removing himself from their marriage.  “I was lonely, Emmett,”  she said.  “Simple as that.”

The Cairo Affair is a multi-layered story of espionage, love, and betrayal.  The novel opens in the present day, during the “Arab Spring,” but its roots go back to 1991 and Yugoslavia.  When the couple was in in that country two decades ago, they met a woman named Zora Balasevic.  Now Emmett tells a startled Sophie that two years ago Zora, working at the Serbian embassy in Cairo, had tried to enlist him to spy for her country.  Shock number two.

Emmett tells Sophie that he naturally refused but never reported the incident because he wasn’t sure who at the embassy could be trusted.  Eventually his superiors at the embassy realized that information was getting out; Emmett was among those who came under scrutiny because he had been seen with Zora. 

But before the conversation between Emmett and Sophie can go much further, a man walks into the restaurant and shoots and kills Emmett. 

The novel is told from the point of view of several different people, each one telling his/her own version of what happened in the past and what is happening now.  Jibril Aziz is a CIA employee of Libyan descent.  For years he’s been involved in a mysterious project called Stumbler, a project which he believes involves United States government officials’ secret involvement in the Libyan efforts to unseat Muammar Gadhafi.  Unable to convince the powers in charge of his version of events, he takes off for the Mideast to try to control the situation.

Stan Bertolli also has come under scrutiny from his embassy superiors who are trying to plug the information leak.  But while that should be his major concern, he is preoccupied with his longing for Sophie.  And when she contacts him after Emmett is murdered, he tells her to come to Cairo at once and he will help her.

Sophie is now on her own for the first time in her life.  Not knowing whom to trust in Hungary and fearful of any investigation, she returns to Egypt and Stan, although she’s not certain that that’s the best place for her either.

Sophie and Emmett’s lives are filled with secrets and lies, impacting both on Emmett’s career and their relationship with each other.  The Cairo Affair gives readers a look at the price people pay, in both professional and personal terms, when truth gives way to falsehoods and evasions.

You can read more about Olen Steinhauer at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.