Minotaur Books, $26.99, 408 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-03613-1
The Middle East and North Africa has been the focus of the world’s attention since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2010, and now, the Syrian War has bled over into neighboring countries and spawned one of the most savage, retrograde and degenerate groups of terrorists to ever come along. It’s name is ISIS and most foreign policy experts believe that it, and other groups like it, will pose a long term threat to the United States, Britain, Europe and Australia. But in addition to the wars in the Middle East, another hotbed of strife has been Libya, where our U.S. Embassy in Benghazi was attacked, looted and burned, abandoned and closed. And because the embassy is closed . . . the US has little or no knowledge of what’s happening on the ground there . . . so the government of our country, as well as various other Libyan neighbor states are dependent on ‘humint,’ or human intelligence, to stay abreast of the social, military, and economic conditions there. In a word . . . spies.
The Cairo Affair, by Olen Steinhauer, is the best spy thriller I’ve read and reviewed since last year’s Red Sparrow.
The Cairo Affair is focused on a secret program, code named Stumbler. It was postulated by a CIA analyst and former field agent named Jabril Aziz, and it has something to do with the overthrow of the Qaddafi government in Libya. Stan Bertolli, a Cairo-based CIA agent, wants to know if Stumbler is in play, as does Omar Halawi. He’s an Egyptian secret service operative from the Mubarak era who’s trying to hang on to his job in the new regime that replaced the regime that overthrew the Mubarak government as the Arab Spring gained momentum. The Americans think that the Egyptians have a double agent who’s passing information about Stumbler . . . and lastly . . . there’s Sophie Kohl. Sophie is married to Emmett, a mid-level diplomat at the American Embassy in Hungary. Moments after she confesses that she had an affair while they were stationed in Cairo, he’s shot in the head by an assassin who escapes in the melee after the gunfire and murder in the popular, and crowded, restaurant where they were having lunch . . . where Emmett was about to confess that he’s suspected of being the source of the leaks coming from Cairo Station. At the same time, chaos and terror is breaking out in Libya as the Qaddafi regime is fractured and torn apart. This timely and exciting novel by the new master of the spy thriller will keep you reading long after the lights are out in the rest of the house. It has all the intrigue, treachery, double and triple crosses, ruthlessness and moral dilemmas that any spy novel and thriller enthusiast could want. I couldn’t put it down!