(32. – 919.) The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer – The opening of the book reminded me of The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre. Emmett Kohl, deputy American consul in Budapest, has been married to Sophie for 20 years. He is a modestly talented diplomat. They have spent their married life on postings away from the United States.
At a quiet restaurant Emmett elicits from Sophie that she was unfaithful to him while they were stationed in Cairo. She had carried on affair with Stan Bertolli, a CIA agent.
Moments later Emmett is shot to death by a professional killer.
Guilt and curiousity drive Sophie to go Cairo. I hoped the consequences of this quest for the truth behind a spouse’s death would not be as grim as in The Constant Gardener.
Shortly before his death Emmett had met with Jibril Aziz, a Libyan now working for American intelligence, and Sophie wants to know if there is a connection between Emmett’s death and Aziz.
John Calhoun, a contractor – free lance intelligence operative - hired by the CIA, has taken Aziz from Cairo across the border into Libya. Arab Spring has inspired demonstrations and revolutions through the Arab world and Libyans are rising up against Muammar Gadhafi.
A few years earlier Aziz had worked on a plot to oust Gadhafi by using Libyan exiles and a small elite group of American military. Aziz is convinced the plan called Stumbler has been put into action but would America be so reckless as to directly intervene in an Arab revolt? The concept seemed less plausible when the book was written in about 2013.
In Cairo there are dizzying layers of deceit. Most of are of the most challenging nature. They are the lies of partial truths.
As Sophie is enveloped in the shadows of espionage I thought of another skilled writer of spy fiction, Alan Furst. Had the book been set in and around World War II it could have been a Furst story.
As with Furst and Le Carre the clash of intelligence services involves the spies of multiple nations interacting in Europe and Africa.
A good book became great when a mole in Cairo is revealed. I had not an inkling of the identity of the leaker. The book reaffirmed my weakness at unraveling deceit. The clues were there but I did not understand them.
The book explores how much deceit can a person absorb and still function. Sophie is surrounded by deceivers. When you can trust no one perhaps it is best to trust everyone.
The resolution of the multiple threads to the plot is skillfully and, better yet, credibly done by Steinhauer. Without saying more the ending is the opposite of the finish to The Constant Gardener.
As I read the book I thought has it only been 6 years since Arab Spring began. So many wars and regime changes have taken place in the Arab world. I am sure those events occurring after The Cairo Affair was written will inspire more spy fiction.