The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

This a fast-moving thriller with an intricate plot about espionage, the FBI and political games as played out in the 90’s among foreign diplomats for the governments of Libya, Egypt, and the USA. The story is centered around Sophia Kohl the wife of Emmett Kohl, a mid-level diplomat at the American embassy in Hungary. Her husband is shot dead by an unknown gunman right after she confesses to him about having an affair. The story then follows as Sophia goes awol with a determination to find out who killed her husband and why. Her unauthorized and secretive quest set in motion an inquisition that threatens to expose years of deceit, lies, murders and cover ups.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Cairo Affair. This book starts off at a breakneck speed, and builds up intensity as the story progresses. It is a complicated and layered plot which makes it even more exciting!

This is one of those books you can’t put down because of the eye-opening discoveries that you make as you get deeper into the story. There are themes of evil schemes, betrayals, rivalries, backstabbing and deceptions all interwoven in this intricate plot.

Set in North Africa, from Hungary to Libya, Yugoslavia to Egypt, this story offers great insights into new places, people and cultures. I especially love stories that take you through foreign lands where you can learn a thing or two – this book does just that.
Pick up this book – It’s well worth your time!
Similar books – The Hidden Man by Charles Cumming, A Cold War by Amelia Levene, and The English Girl by Daniel Silva –

About The Author

Olen Steinhauer grew up in Virginia, and has since lived in Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Massachusetts, and New York. Outside the US, he’s lived in Croatia (when it was called Yugoslavia), the Czech Republic and Italy…Read more from Amazon

Death of a Nightingale

Author – Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
Publication Date – November 5, 2013
Number of Pages – 368 pages
Genre – Mystery
Geographical Setting – Europe

Death of a Nightingale was one of many free pre publication books I received during the recent ALA conference here in Chicago.  It is a Nordic crime fiction from best-selling authors of The Boy in the Suitcase.  I had never heard about the authors so I was not sure what to expect but I went ahead and read it. I have to say, I loved it! If you are familiar with Scandinavian crime fiction novels, then you have a pretty good idea of the background of this novel.

This is another novel I’ve read recently that takes you back and forth in time. The plot runs across cities in Europe stretching from – 1934 Ukraine through present day Denmark. Death of a Nightingale features the Nina Borg series – a red cross nurse dedicated to the cause of immigrants and the poor who cannot afford official legal representations. Nina is at this time frantically protecting an immigrant single mother Natasha and her daughter Katerina even though the police is after Natasha who they suspect to have murdered her husband in the past and recently her Danish fiancé. At the same time, the reader also follows Natasha’s story as she desperately searches for her daughter who Natasha fears might be in enormous danger regardless that her daughter has been placed under police protective custody. It does not help that while Natasha is secretly and desperately looking to find and rescue her daughter, the police is chasing after her as a suspect in the murders. The authors – Kaaberbol and Frills masterfully constructed a heart pounding complex plot that leads the reader to anxiously flip the pages as they try to uncover the shocking mystery.

My Take –

Although this story starts out with a measured pace – which almost caused me to put it down, it picks up intensity as the reader gets to the middle and continues on a break neck speed with ending twists. Death of a Nightingale is a complicated story line where the discovery of two separate bodies has police detectives piecing pieces together and racing against time in other to find the killer. I find this an emotionally charged story which draws the reader in as they watch Natasha missing her daughter terribly is over come by this fear of some evil thing be falling her baby.

The authors did a great job of creating some confusion in the minds of the readers by weaving in the aspect of a rogue detective which plants doubts about who the real killer is. Thus, the reader grapples with some questions as they read along – Why is Natasha afraid to talk about her past life in Ukraine, could that have anything to do with the murders? Natasha might be psychologically unstable, but is she capable of inflicting such substantial wounds and killing both men? And why would she also want to harm her own daughter?

This book is loaded with revelations of heart breaking secrets and deceits as a roller coaster of sad and unfortunate events from the past are brought to light.

I classify Death of a Nightingale as a great book, not only because of the detailed writing, passionate and persuasive voice, but the background elements exhibiting such a strong sense of place. I was particularly fascinated by the insights of eastern European countries as they are vividly portrayed in the novel. The reader gets some perception of the history of these cities as well as some political and cultural differences that exist among them –  which I truly appreciate as one who has never traveled that far.  This novel fed my curiosity about other cultures, that while reading the book I engaged my map app on my iPad which allowed me to follow the story and maintain a real connection with the places and times.

I would recommend this for all crime fiction readers, however readers of Scandinavian crime fiction would especially be excited for this new addition. And – Watch out as this book gets published November 2013!!
(Now I want to read their first novel – The Boy in a Suitcase which has garnered a lot of buzz …)

About the authors –

Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis are the Danish duo behind the Nina Borg series. Friis is a journalist by training, while Kaaberbøl has been a professional writer since the age of 15, with more than 2 million books sold worldwide. Their first collaboration, The Boy in the Suitcase, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, and has been translated into 27 languages ~ Authors’ info from Amazon.com

Similar titles

The Girl With The Dragon Tatto by Steig Larsson
Missing by Karin Alvtegen
The Bat by Jo Nesbo
The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Among The Missing by Morag Joss

Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn
Title:
Gone Girl
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Publication:
June 5, 2012
Number of Pages: 432 pages
Geographical Setting:
North Carthage, Missouri

What drew me to this book? (1) It was on the bestseller’s list of 2012 and (2) It garnered lots of raving reviews. So I decided – why not…

At the initial glance, this book starts out like an open and shut case – but it’s not!

In a small town in North Carthage, Missouri, everyone is shocked when a beautiful woman Amy suddenly disappears on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary to Nick Dunnes her husband. As investigations begin, all evidence seem to point to the husband as the probable killer. Friends and neighbors are torn – did Nick Dunnes really kill his wife? On learning that he has become a suspect, Nick starts his own investigations and along the way, he learns of shocking and terrible secretes about his wife. Puzzled and perplexed, he starts to question among other things – his wife’s real identity.

Intricately plotted, and written with alternating narrations of Nick and entries found in Amy’s diary, the reader is drawn into this complex psychological suspense with doubts of whose point of view to actually believe. On the surface, the story seems simple and straight forward until the reader gets to the middle of the novel where dark, twisted, and chilling discoveries begin to emerge.

Gone Girl is engrossing, fast paced, layered and thought-provoking. This is a brilliant crime novel that would appeal to anyone who love thrills, mysteries and surprises.

While I did enjoy reading this book, however I would not consider it one of the top thrillers ever written like some reviewers rated it. Any thoughts?

Night

I recently revisited one of my old favorites – quite a disturbing and thought provoking piece. Here is my review, please share your thoughts…

Author: Elie Wiesel
Title: Night
Genre: Memoir, Inspirational
Publication: 2006
Number of Pages: 120 pages
Geographical Setting: Europe- Germany
Time Period: 1933-1945

Wiesel writes what seems to be his own autobiography through the eyes of the narrator -Eliezer. We get a first person narrative of events of the holocaust as Elies takes us through the Nazis invasion of Hungary in 1944. To the rude awakening of the Jews, a lot of oppressive and stringent laws are created to oppress the Jews forcing them into the ghettos. From then, there are imposed restrictions and eventual massive deportation of the Jews as prisoners by cattle cars to Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. On getting to camp, Elie is separated from his father during “selection”. From then on we get a detailed account of the horror, hardship and inhumanity as suffered by Elie Wiesel and his family and the rest of the Jews. Babies are burned in the ditch, hundreds of Jews burned in the crematoria. Prisoners are stripped naked and exposed to extreme weather condition, most people die from malnutrition and disease.
In the end, we see a broken down man, his spirits crushed which causes him to question his faith in God and in his fellow men.
A gut wrenching read, will appeal to those curious about the holocaust.

Here are some read a-likes you might want to check out-

Gratitude by Kertes, Joseph
Schindler’s list by Keneally, Thomas
The jade peony by Choy, Wayson
The diary of a young girl by Anne Frank
Maus: a survivor’s tale by Spiegelman, Art
Holocaust: the events and their impact on real people by Wood, Angela

The Day of The Jackal

I’m currently in this great class – Readers’ Advisory with an awesome instructor – Becky Spratford.  We’ve read quite a bunch of novels and wrote some reviews as well. I’d say-it’s been fun!

I first this title many years back and I have to tell you, I read it again with the same intensity and relish as I did the first time.  This is one of those books you can’t just put down – so be warned!

Skim through this and feel free to add more read a-like titles I might have left out.

Title: The Day of the Jackal
Genre: Thriller
Publication Date: May 2, 2011
Number of Pages: 416 pages
Geographical Setting: Europe – London, France, Germany
Time Period:
1960’s

Plot Summary:

A theme with an urgent matter shrouded in secrecy. The events takes place in the 1960’s Europe – a page turner that keeps you at the edge of your seat. The story unfolds gradually and builds in intensity. A couple of unsuccessful attempts had previously been made to assassinate Charles de Gaulle, President of France by some disgruntled members of the opposition group. Eventually, a decision is reached for a final assassination attempt-which has to be fool proof. An unknown, one man professional killer is hired to do the job. To keep his identity secret, he would take on a code name-The Jackal. Secret meetings are held, payment arrangements made and the killer let loose. As we get a step by step account of how the killer prepares for his job, tension gradually builds up. The government authorities somehow learn of the plot, this then sets off a roller coaster of events, leading to an intense man hunt for the assassin which moves the story at a very rapid pace. The various plans and schemes on how to capture the assassin are shrouded in secrecy making the story all the more suspenseful. As the story progresses, you are nervous as you watch the killer just one step ahead of the police. The book has multiple plots told from an omniscient point of view. This allows the reader to see into the minds of all the characters which adds to the tension. Each chapter ends with a cliff hanger increasing the sense of anticipation. This is a must read for any thriller fan- this book has you on edge the entire time!

Fiction read-alikes:

The Columbus Affair: A Novel by Berry, Steve
Private games  by Patterson, James
The Innocent by David Baldacci

Non –fiction read-alikes:

The murder of King Tut by James Patterson
Kill or Capture by Matthew Alexander