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The Istanbul Variations Paperback – 2 Jul 2007
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Praise for ‘The Istanbul Variations’:
‘Great stuff.’ Observer
Praise for 'The Vienna Assignment':
'Fascinating…clever…a beautifully written spy thriller.' Guardian
‘Steinhauer has carved a niche for his well-researched Cold War thrillers….vividly captures the atmosphere and the mood of the time, with credible characters and impressive detail.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Highly recommended.’ Irish Times
'Steinhauer shows himself to be a master of plotting…he doesn't put a foot wrong…exquisitely written, full of well-drawn characters.' Irish Examiner
Praise for Olen Steinhauer:
'A powerful, thought-provoking literary thriller in the mould of Philip Kerr's ‘Berlin Noir’ trilogy.' Daily Telegraph
'Think of the suspenseful erudition of Alan Furst's thrillers and Philip Kerr's eye-opening “Berlin Noir” trilogy… right up there on those stellar heights, casting new light on relatively recent history we thought we already knew everything about.’ Chicago Tribune
'Steinhauer is a welcome addition to the wartime ground mapped out by Philip Kerr and Alan Furst.' Guardian
'Brilliant…this powerful novel grips from beginning to end.' Sunday Telegraph
About the Author
OLEN STEINHAUER's first two novels, ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ and ‘The Confession’, have garnered thus far an Edgar nomination, an Anthony nomination, a Macavity nomination, a Historical Dagger nomination, and rave reviews. Inspired to write his Eastern European series while on a Fulbright Scholarship in Romania, Steinhauer was raised in Texas and now lives in Budapest, Hungary.
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Top customer reviews
It's also fluidly written with a page-turning stunt so that the action chops and changes from different characters' perspectives and at different times. You have to keep your wits about you to check who you're with and when, and this is one of the reasons why Istanbul Variations is a bit of a rip-roarer. I suspect that if it was told in strictly chronological order and from one point of view then it would be a lot less enjoyable.
The descriptive tone of the book is less polished than, say, Alan Furst's glorious evocations of pre-WW2 Europe (try The Spies Of Warsaw ), so although the plot and people are engaging, their society felt rather distant to me. So I don't rank Istanbul Variations as highly as Furst's work, or Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir (recently revived in The One from the Other: A Bernie Gunther Mystery ), or the new series by David Downing (can thoroughly recommend Zoo Station )
However, the urgency of the action and the confusion of the central characters as the mystery unfolds is compelling, and the action is fast-paced. And there's even a bit of the unexplained, for those of us who enjoy walking on the darker side...
I'll certainly look for more by this author.
Those couple of Olen Steinhauer's espionage thrillers that I've read previously, both featuring the protagonist Brano Sev, are unique in my experience of reading spy novels in that the perspective is from the eastern side of the Iron Curtain during the years of the Cold War. Brano is an officer in the People's Militia of an otherwise anonymous Eastern Bloc nation and is stationed in its Capital. Brano is no menacing 007; he's just a regular guy doing a job on behalf of his country and its political system. He's very much like the dedicated, mid-level, civil servants one comes across in the marvelous thrillers by Gerald Seymour.
In LIBERATION MOVEMENTS, there's a "then" and a "now." The former is 1968 and Czech musicology student Peter Husak, caught up in the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops that ended the Prague Spring, betrays his fellow student activists and then commits a brutal murder to get himself a new life and identity. The "now" is 1975, when a plane from the Capital to Istanbul is taken over by Armenian hijackers. The craft subsequently blows up in the air, killing a Militia homicide investigator. Sev and two of his subordinates, Gavra Noukas and Katja Drdova, are put on the case.
The storyline veers back and forth between the two timelines which, of course, ultimately merge.
In this book, Katja is actually the main protagonist - and one to whom this reader became most sympathetic. I imagine she's just a one-off character in Steinhauer's fictional world, but she's an effective one. Bran, on the other hand, stays pretty much in the background pulling strings. Gavra, while interesting, could just have well been left on the editing room floor as far as I was concerned; he was one of the unnecessary distractions.
I liked LIBERATION MOVEMENTS very much as a revenge story. Unfortunately, as I see it, the story got needlessly cluttered with both the Gavra character and the wherefore of the plane hijacking. Some of the details of the latter didn't even make much sense. Therefore, I'm knocking off a couple of stars, which may be more of an extreme reaction than is warranted.