Sunday, December 21, 2014

We'll always have Cairo

Welcome back friend(s). Sorry for the long silence. I've got a plan. I know I've said that before. But here I am on the first day of my week off determined to execute the plan. Said plan is to blog one audiobook on each day off between now and January 20 (the day I get off for celebrating MLK Jr.'s birthday). At first I was going to get all 17 audiobooks done this week, but that's not really a vacation. And boy do I need a vacation. So, yes, it's been three months, nearly four since I listened to a few of these books and I'm a lousy notetaker. Here we go.

I have no notes whatsoever about Olen Steinhauer's The Cairo Affair. It was an enjoyable spy novel but I do recall thinking that it was just a bit too complicated for a listener. Steinhauer does wrap up everything quite satisfactorily with each proffered tidbit coming back around to make sense. I like that. I really enjoyed the first of his "Tourist" trilogy and actually had the idea of listening to book 2 in that series, but -- based on this listen -- I think I'll eye read it instead (eventually).

No point in a synopsis, the details are long gone. (I finished this book on August 7.) The bare bones involve long-time diplomatic spouse Sophie Kohl who had a memorable honeymoon in the Balkans in the 1990s (in the midst of the war there) and has since trailed her husband Emmett from one post to another. While the couple was in Cairo in 2010 (or so), she had an affair (with Emmett's boss?) and she has just confessed this infidelity to Emmett at a romantic dinner in Budapest when he is shot dead in front of her. Feeling that his death is her fault, related in some way to what happened in Cairo, Sophie begins her own investigation. (She is right, of course.)

It's a thriller, it has all the usual spy novel ingredients -- world hotspots, secrets upon secrets, sympathetic enemies and threatening friends. I did like the double meaning of the Affair. Sophie's not a very nice person, yet her fate matters. The spy who eventually helps her seemed to appear somewhat late and conveniently in the story but it could also be that I completely forgot meeting him earlier. Regardless, he's a person I could read another novel about, whereas Sophie, not so much.

The delightful Edoardo Ballerini is the reader. No doubt this was part of the allure of listening (instead of reading) the novel. His precise baritone reveals no secrets but takes command of the story from the beginning. A listener knows she is in good hands. As stated earlier, I've got no notes which means that nothing in his performance was egregiously wrong (or fabulously right) and that pacing, suspense, dialog, international accents were all perfectly fine, thank you! Since a significant portion of the novel is from Sophie's viewpoint, he portrays her with a natural femininity.

What I do remember of this novel is that we hear events from several perspectives -- Emmett's murder, their honeymoon in the Balkans, a surreptitious incursion into Libya during the Arab Spring, the denouement, and others -- and Ballerini makes clear which character's view we are witnessing. His characters are consistent and vocally fascinating. Having enjoyed him in both Jess Walter's romantic saga and now a thriller, I'm pretty sure he can read anything. I'm glad that audio publishers haven't slotted him into a genre. I'll listen to him again.

I'll try to stick to a promise never to mention how far behind I am or how little I remember of the books to come. Fair warning: There's not much very exciting in what's to come either. The listening got kind of dull after this one.

[The trek into Libya in this book is terrifying. This photo was taken by Phil Ittner for the Voice of America pretty much at the "present" time of The Cairo Affair. Original caption: "Rebel fighters at positions outside Brega, Libya show their support for the opposition and their enthusiastic belief that they will overthrow the government in Tripoli, March 10, 2011." It was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer
Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini
Macmillan Audio, 2014. 12:22

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