The Cairo Affair

Over dinner one night in a Budapest restaurant, U.S. consul Emmett Kohl confronts his wife, Sophie, with his knowledge of her affair with a CIA spy. Before Sophie can overcome her shock, a gunman enters the restaurant and shoots Emmett dead at the table. In the ensuing chaos, the gunman gets away. So begins Olen Steinhauer's The Cairo Affair.

Instead of accompanying her husband's body back to Boston for burial, Sophie eludes her official escorts to return to Cairo, where Emmett was stationed before Budapest. She believes the answer to his murder lies there, and needs to find it to reassure herself her affair did not lead to his death. She contacts her old lover, Stan, for help, but can she trust him--and if not him, then who?

The story is complex and shifts point of view among its major players, but Steinhauer manages to guide readers through the twists and turns without making the plot too dense or confusing, even if one isn't up on current events in Northern Africa. Sophie is unlikable, however: a bored diplomat's wife who makes rash, selfish decisions to add drama to her privileged life without consideration for the consequences. Her awareness of her weakness doesn't mitigate her sometime devastating actions.

Luckily she's only one of the narrators; the others, including an American contractor who works for the embassy in Cairo and an Egyptian agent with the Central Security Forces, are more interesting and sympathetic, people doing their best to retain their humanity in unsettling times. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, crime-fiction editor, The Edit Ninja

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