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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable thriller
A great read - I think Steinhauer is upping his game immensely. I enjoyed 'Bridge of Sighs' (and would still like more of Emil Brod and the immediate postwar backdrop!), wasn't fully taken by 'The Confession', but his latest shows a thriller master in the making. I'm sure writers hate comparisons, but Steinhauer's spare, cool writing...
Published on 29 Nov 2005 by George Rodger

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This Meant Something to Me
I wasn't around for the Cold War, but I do like to read about it. This was a time when spies often knew who each other where, but lived within a set of unwritten rules. The Western spy network is well covered in fiction, but the East still remains more of a mystery to me. Olen Steinhauer tackles this in `The Vienna Assignment' which focuses on an Eastern agent and his...
Published on 9 Sep 2009 by Sam Tyler


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable thriller, 29 Nov 2005
By 
George Rodger - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vienna Assignment (Hardcover)
A great read - I think Steinhauer is upping his game immensely. I enjoyed 'Bridge of Sighs' (and would still like more of Emil Brod and the immediate postwar backdrop!), wasn't fully taken by 'The Confession', but his latest shows a thriller master in the making. I'm sure writers hate comparisons, but Steinhauer's spare, cool writing reminds me of Alan Furst, although with an enjoyably bleaker mood - suiting the unnamed 1960s Soviet Bloc setting.
I do like a crime or thriller with a 'new' surrounding, and Steinhauer is mining a rich seam with his take on espionage-flavoured crime behind - or across - the Iron Curtain, like a Soviet mirror image Len Deighton or early Le Carre. (Or should that be 'wilderness of mirrors' image?) And you don't at any time feel any mis-steps: the handling of the characters is very assured, as is the building of tension, the plot twists - although some you might see rather than later - and the grubby atmosphere of compromised loyalties, justifiable paranoia, and empty slogans. I look forward to the next one from Steinhauer.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eastern block delight., 7 Feb 2009
By 
Michael Gale (Dorset) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vienna Assignment (Paperback)
My reading habits have been along the lines of Philip Kerr - Alan Furst - David Downing - Marek Krajewski - Olen Steinhauer.
I've only docked this book a point because I have an issue with the lack of a real country setting rather than the generic Eastern Bloc state Mr Steinhauer has created. The gripping and rich narrative however is not compromised by this unique take on story telling and to be quite honest it has started to grow on me as I now embark on my 4th book of his which started with 'Bridge of Sighs'. I look forward to reading his entire catalogue!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This Meant Something to Me, 9 Sep 2009
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This review is from: The Vienna Assignment (Paperback)
I wasn't around for the Cold War, but I do like to read about it. This was a time when spies often knew who each other where, but lived within a set of unwritten rules. The Western spy network is well covered in fiction, but the East still remains more of a mystery to me. Olen Steinhauer tackles this in `The Vienna Assignment' which focuses on an Eastern agent and his entanglement in loyalty, betrayal and murder. The harsh reality of life in the East during the 60s are shown well and suggests that Steinhauer researched the period. I liked the way that an agent could be captured and tortured only for them to come out and forgive the torturer as it was part of the job.

As a spy novel `Vienna' hits all the right notes. Steinhauer paints a provocative picture of post war Europe; lead Brano Sev is a good character as he is moody and grim, but also loyal and determined. The fact that the book flings him from place to place never allowing Sev to trust anyone makes it classic noir. However, like with a lot of noir the book gets confused by its own twists and turns. The entire plot needs to be explained by a character towards the end as it is so confusing, I much prefer to understand the plot whilst reading it. Steinhauer's portrayal of the post Stalinist spy network is enough to make the book worth reading; it is a shame that it becomes too complex towards the end.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and atmospheric Cold War thriller, 8 Nov 2011
By 
R. Brewer (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vienna Assignment (Paperback)
I liked this book and - albeit with some reservations - would recommend it to anyone who wants to steep themselves in the treacherous world of Cold War espionage and counter-espionage without leaving the fireside. As others have said, it's in the mould of Alan Furst, and originally it was having exhausted Furst's books that I found Olen Steinhauer's work.

The main character is Brano Sev, a major in a Communist state security service who features as a minor character in the author's earlier work The Bridge of Sighs. Following a "black op" in Vienna which goes disastrously wrong for Sev, he is sacked from his post and directed to work in a factory. He then joins a fellow countryman in a hair-raising defection via Hungary back to Vienna, where most of the action takes place. Of course nothing is at it seems on the surface, and we are led through a complex maze of characters and plot until the final denouement.

I particularly like the use of dialogue - generally cool and under-stated - and the mood and detail of the 60's felt mostly right to me (I was there and do remember it!). Brano is a interesting mix of hero and anti-hero, ultimately loyal to the State but only too aware of the personal price he pays for that loyalty.

So why only 3 stars? Two main reasons - firstly the plot is very confusing throughout most of the book, and right at the end it needs one of the characters to explain what was actually going on (if you recall the explanations at the end of episodes of Perry Mason you'll know what I mean). I can see how this approach to plot can be justifiable and effective when what the reader knows is also what the hero knows, but Brano must know more than we do.

Secondly the author uses the device of keeping Brano's home country generic - so for example, the capital is just called The Capital - and I couldn't understand why. The other countries which figure significantly - Austria and Hungary - are both specific and painted in detail. I think this device takes the edge off the credibility of the story, which is a shame in a book which really in many ways deserves a wide readership.
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4.0 out of 5 stars well constructed set of mind games, 12 May 2012
By 
Rob Kitchin - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vienna Assignment (Paperback)
One ingredient of a good spy thriller is a sense of mystery, with the reader and the main protagonist not really sure quite what is happening. Steinhauer manages to maintain this uncertainty to the end of The Vienna Assignment. Just as you think you've got a handle on what is happening and why, the mirrors are shifted and a new view appears. The prose is mostly quite functional, but the plotting is carefully constructed, the shifting ground and mind games well framed and paced, tempting the reader along. The characterization is for the most part good, with Sev in particular a well-penned character, with depth, layers and rich back story. The Cold War sense of place in Vienna is well portrayed and contextualised. My big gripe is that Sev's home country, in which a large portion of the book takes place, is unnamed and is therefore a bit ephemeral. I'm not really sure why. It makes for an odd balance, where the history and places of Austria and Hungary are a central component, but they are opposed by a generic Iron Curtain country lacking in context. Overall, a solid spy thriller with an interesting protagonist and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until near the end.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Overly murky - 3+, 7 Feb 2012
By 
Blue in Washington "Barry Ballow" (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vienna Assignment (Paperback)
I'm a fan of Olen Steinhauer but this isn't my favorite of his books. It's certainly got an intricate and original plot which laid out from the perspective of a circa-1966 East European (Communist) espionage agent. My biggest problem with the book is its very opaqueness. The author constructs a very elaborate series of actions (assassinations of agents, frame ups, betrayals, etc.) with no explanation or logic or even many clues for the reader. I think that this approach has its benefits, but at some point, the hidden hand becomes a frustration and stops being entertaining. On top of that, the protagonist of the "The Vienna Assignment", is not a particularly likable or even interesting character, so readers don't even have that to hang on to as they wander through the book's murky labyrinth. One other source of irritation for me was the author's choice to make the central character's point of origin a fictional country in the Communist Bloc. International relationships did (and do) have meaning and account for behavior, so the removal of the that "political compass" detracted from the story (my opinion, of course).

The novel does finally have a reasonably satisfying ending, but overall, there are more interesting Steinhauer stories out there.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written spy thriller, 10 Oct 2011
By 
Tim62 "history buff" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vienna Assignment (Paperback)
For my money, The Viennna Assignment (or 36 Yalta Boulevard in the US) has got to be up there with Graham Greene, Eric Ambler or John Le Carre. I really think it is that good. Brano Sev, the main protaganist is a senior spook for an unnamed East European country. I liked the fact that it's a made-up country. It allows Steinhauer the freedom to introduce aspects of all parts of the Eastern Bloc into his mythical homeland.

I am not going to give away the plot, though I am not sure I could if I wanted to, anyway. There are enough twists and turns to make it a satifying thriller, but it is Steinhauer's writing here that lifts it way above the common herd. The writing style is beautiful, and Brano Sev is a wonderful creation.

In part, there is this wistful strain of nostalgia running through the book - a nostalgia for a lost empire - the Soviet one. It is quite possible that as I am English, I can feel this quite happily, never having had my country under the grim, grey boot of state socialism. So for me 'ost-algie' is just a long-dead past which has been recreated. (I grew up in the sixties and seventies and remember much of the Cold War but even though it only ended 20 years ago, it does seem a world apart from the Europe of today)

This was the first of Olen Steinhauer's books I've read, and I will now read all five of his books in this sequence on his unnamed Eastern country - starting with The Bridge of Sighs and The Confession.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Steinhauer effort, 22 April 2010
By 
J. Byrne "JPB" (Cupertino, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Vienna Assignment (Paperback)
A solid Steinhauer book, not his best, by a long stretch, but an interesting read. Fabulous characterisation of the character Dijana here; would love to see a screen rendition, with the co-operation of the author, to see more of this character. This book is heavier than some of his others, The Confession, The Tourist, even the Istanbul Variations, are, I think, lighter and easier to penetrate. Still, much praise to the author for another fine creation.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best spy book I have read, 14 Feb 2013
This review is from: The Vienna Assignment (Paperback)
After a freind handed me this book, I put it away on the shelf for a while. This was because I hadn't heard of the author and new nothing about the content. The back cover write up was mainly a deterrent because of the subject matter as well as the period of the novel...60's, before I was born.

When I finally got to read the book, I was blown away by the intellingent narration, speed of the format, the revelation of the plot and particularly the Brano Sev charecter. It's ceratinly complex and sometimes perplexing but all along I wasn't feeling like being tricked by the author as happens with many a spy novel. I didn't think that the secrets were kept from me and I had the feeling that I was learning about the plot as fast as the main protagonist. It's an amazing journey, sometimes unbeleiveable but always interesting, keeping me engaged throughout. The compelling journey undertaken by Brano, the self-scarifice he had to make, the toll it's takes on him, the torture he had endure.....I was at no stage feeling like this cannot happen, this can't be true. I was surprised by how drawn I was to the charecter and how sympathetic I was towards the spies behind the curtain. At the end, I wanted more. As you may see, I have reviewed most of this author's books since then, having devoured the 'Yalta series' books in quick succession before going on to the 'Milo Weaver' series.

This is a gifted author with an original style. Comaprisions to Le Carre have been made but I think this author has carved out a space for himself with the eight books so far. Brano Sev is as compelling as Milo Weaver and the two sets of books are equal in their intelligent portrayals, charecter development and plot lines. More power to his elbows.
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The Vienna Assignment
The Vienna Assignment by Olen Steinhauer (Paperback - 21 April 2010)
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