The Cairo Affair: Book summary and reviews of The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer

The Cairo Affair

By Olen Steinhauer

The Cairo Affair
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' rating:

  • Published in USA  Mar 2014,
    400 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this book

Book Summary

Sophie Kohl is living her worst nightmare. Minutes after she confesses to her husband, Emmett, a mid-level diplomat at the American embassy in Hungary, that she had an affair while they were in Cairo, he is shot in the head and killed.

Stan Bertolli, a Cairo-based CIA agent, has fielded his share of midnight calls. But his heart skips a beat when, this time, he hears the voice of the only woman he ever truly loved, calling to ask why her husband has been assassinated.

Omar Halawi has worked in Egyptian intelligence for years, and he knows how to play the game. Foreign agents pass him occasional information, he returns the favor, and everyone's happy. But the murder of a diplomat in Hungary has ripples all the way to Cairo, and Omar must follow the fall-out wherever it leads.

American analyst Jibril Aziz knows more about Stumbler, a covert operation rejected by the CIA years ago, than anyone. So when it appears someone else has obtained a copy of the blueprints, Jibril alone knows the danger it represents.

As these players converge on the city of Cairo, Olen Steinhauer's masterful manipulations slowly unveil a portrait of a marriage, a jigsaw puzzle of loyalty and betrayal, against a dangerous world of political games where allegiances are never clear and outcomes are never guaranteed.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!


Media Reviews

"...the novel is like a Franck Muller watch, a construct of beauty—but metallic and cold. No matter. One marvels at the intricacy of its imagination and the elegance of its maker's craftsmanship." - Publishers Weekly

"Readers yearning for a fiendishly complex plot, penetrating characterizations, and a new warrior in the ancient struggle between anomie and truth will welcome Sophie and her brash courage." - Library Journal

"Could easily dispense with a third of the pages in this le Carré wannabe." - Kirkus

"A genuine page turner - cleverly conceived and intricately plotted. Steinhauer juggles political and personal loyalties with a master storyteller's sleight of hand." - Joseph Kanon

"The Cairo Affair is the espionage novel at its best, packed with betrayals, double-crosses, hidden agendas, moral conflicts, international relations, and even a delectable double-entendre of a title." - Chris Pavone

The information about The Cairo Affair shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Mal
Every bit a thriller
This book had my full attention from the beginning and it kept increasing. From the turn of the first page until the turn of the last page I was completely and totally immersed. Steinhauer designed a climax worth noticing and since this novel is similar to a maze he masterfully succeeded. An amateur could not have pulled the apex off but Steinhauer is not an amateur.

Cairo is vividly described, you take in the environment and its senses. The characters seem 'real' and immediately you find yourself involved in their presence. The spies are human and not overly theatrical or dramatized, rather every day people doing what they do. With their 'real' portrayal it causes the reader to be empathetic, you have an understanding of the reasons they did what they did. If they were portrayed in another fashion I am certain having this unspoken understanding and empathy would not be possible.

Reading The Cairo Affair was similar to finding your way out of an intricate maze, just when you think you have grasped the maze you are wrong - every bit a spy thriller with numerous suspenseful moments. No question this would make for an incredible movie, no small undertaking but incredible in the very least but the book will always reign supreme - far too many details to translate to film without taking away from its beauty, huge undertaking, perhaps a possibility in talented hands.

Steinhauer crafted an outstanding piece of work in both writing and narrative with multiple heart stopping moments, character driven and every ounce a thriller.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Shirley F. (Franksville, WI)
Cairo Affair
I enjoyed most of this book although the changing viewpoints made Part IV a little difficult to follow. I didn't especially like the characters (which is not to say that I didn't like the book) but was intrigued by their changing roles throughout the book and I could empathize with many of them.
I would say my knowledge of the various governments and coups in the Middle East is perfunctory at best, and as a result, I may have missed some of the importance of the activities in the book, but I got the story along with the layered identities and multiple betrayals inherent in any spy novel. The author used the exotic locations of Eastern Europe, Egypt and Libya for backdrops to his story, and added current (2011) political events to enhance the intrigue to the book.
I was disappointed in the ambiguous ending and would have liked more closure especially for Sophie. John was dropped after page 228, then showed up again on page 407 without anything in between. And I still don't know the significance of the boy on the bridge who threw the statue of Lenin in the river or why Sophie kept thinking about it - it really didn't add much to move the story along.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by George M. (Antioch, CA)
The Cairo Affair. Extraordinary
From the very first sentence I was pulled into a tense and exciting thriller, reminiscent of Le Carre. What a white knuckle adventure, set in today's Arab turmoil. A tale of romance. Of intrigue. Of betrayal. The Cairo Affair is something to be savored. Take your time reading it, because you will not want it to end.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Nanette S. (Indiana)
The Cairo Affair
Intrigue and mystery wind through this tale of espionage, deceit, and double dealing. The author infuses all aspects of spycraft into his characters and their actions. The story begins with Sophie, who must decide who to trust when trying to find out who and why her husband, Emmett, a diplomat, was killed while they were having lunch in a Budapest restaurant, Emmett had just confronted her about an affair she had when they were living in Cairo. No sooner had he brought up the subject, a strange man had entered the restaurant, shot him dead, and walked out.

Good story with different points of view used to portray Sophie's actions, although it is sometimes confusing to decipher what time frame, present or past, is being described.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Nanette S.
The Cairo Affair
Good story line about spies, diplomats and government agencies, and how they interact with information, secrets and intel collected while living overseas with their allies. You get various points of view from the characters about how they give and receive their needed information and what to do with it once it has been received. Can you rely on the information you've gotten? What do you do with it once you've received it?
That is all something that Sophie must decide when her husband, a diplomat, has just been killed in front of her in a restaurant in Budapest. Why was he a target? Did it have something to do with her affair while living in Cairo? or was it something her husband was working on?
It is sometimes a bit confusing to remember which character you are reading about and if you are in the present or in a flashback, but still a book worth reading. This is my first Olen Steinhauer book I have read and plan on reading some of his earlier material.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Mary O. (Boston, MA)
Twists and Turns
This is a multiple-faceted spy novel of international espionage set in the a Middle East. It is fast paced, at times a real page turner, with some unexpected twists and turns. There is good character development and depiction of the culture in the Middle East. A very enjoyable read if you are a lover of espionage novels!

...30 more reader reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Author Information

Olen Steinhauer Author Biography

Photo: Nancy Crampton

Olen Steinhauer grew up in Virginia, and has lived throughout the U.S. and Europe. He spent a year in Romania on a Fulbright grant, an experience that helped inspire his first five books. He now lives in Hungary with his wife and daughter.

His first novel, The Bridge of Sighs (2003), began a five-book sequence chronicling Cold War Eastern Europe, one book per decade. It was nominated for five awards. The rest of the sequence includes: The Confession, 36 Yalta Boulevard (The Vienna Assignment in the UK), Liberation Movements (The Istanbul Variations in the UK)—this one was nominated for an Edgar Award for best novel of the year—and Victory Square, which was a New York Times editor's choice.

With The Tourist (2009), he began a trilogy of spy tales focused on ...

... Full Biography
Author Interview
Link to Olen Steinhauer's Website

Other books by Olen Steinhauer at BookBrowse
  • The Tourist jacket

6 more...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

More Recommendations

Readers Also Browsed . . .


Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"

    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The Arsonist
by Sue Miller

Published Jun. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  125Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist


Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.