Liberation Movements (aka The Istanbul Variations) (2006)


"Liberation Movements is imbued with a retro kind of cool. [...] But Liberation Movements is not so cold or so neat, for all that. At its heart is a messy, human revenge plot that is as captivating as it is unlikely to end happily. - Anna Godbersen, Esquire

2007 Edgar Award Finalist: Best Novel of the Year -
Short-listed for the Grand prix des lectrices de Elle -
New York magazine: one of "The Best Novels You've Never Read"

Olen Steinhauer’s acclaimed crime series set in Eastern Europe has taken readers from the first shots of the revolution and through the chaos of the 1960s. Now, it is 1975, and one of the People’s Militia investigators is bound for Istanbul when his plane is hijacked by Armenian terrorists and explodes in midair.

Gavra Noukas, a secret policeman, and Katja Drdova, a homicide detective, are assigned to the case. Both believe that Brano Sev, their enigmatic superior and career secret policeman, is hiding the true motives of their investigation, but they can’t figure out why until they learn that everything is connected to a seven-year-old murder with far-reaching consequences.

The compelling politics and history for which Olen Steinhauer’s novels have been praised turn intimate in this ambitious novel.


[...T]he echoes Steinhauer creates between the motives of terrorist groups like the fictional Army of the Liberation of Armenia, the real-life Red Army Faction and others of that day (and, by extension, those of our own) are unexpectedly chilling. Perhaps it is, as one character says, that "[t]he political, in fact, is really only the personal dressed up in more flamboyant clothes." [...]

With its plots and counterplots, secret identities and tradecraft taken straight from the Soviet playbook of the day, "Liberation Movements" is an entertaining [...] read that should put Steinhauer squarely in the front of the pack of today's espionage writers. And with complex, engaging characters like Gavra and Katja carrying on the work of Emil, Libarid, Brano and the older hands, it is an exhilarating and enjoyable ride.

--Paula Woods, LA Times

Conservatives should be lining up to purchase the work of Olen Steinhauer. However, his series of [thrillers] remain largely undiscovered treasures.

Steinhauer’s device of the unspecified time and place give him more freedom to explore life under communist rule. It’s said that combat consists of hours of boredom broken up by short bursts of sheer terror. In Steinhauer’s communist states, life is melancholia punctuated by terror, where the choice too often is between physical safety and a healthy soul.

 --David Forsmark, The National Review

Great stuff.

--The Observer (UK)

Steinhauer's elegant spy novel Liberation Movements is imbued with a retro kind of cool. [...] It is a tight, neatly structured story, built around the lives of very Cold War characters, individuals effaced by the secrecy of their professions and the cynicism of their nation. But Liberation Movements is not so cold or so neat, for all that. At its heart is a messy, human revenge plot that is as captivating as it is unlikely to end happily.

--Anna Godbersen, Esquire

Olen Steinhauer has outdone himself with LIBERATION MOVEMENTS [...] The meticulous interwoven plot [...] runs from character to character, and time frame to time frame. Many authors could lose a reader by setting this challenge before them. Not Steinhauer. This novel is tight, intelligent and incredibly well done. 

--Jennifer Jordan, CrimeSpree Magazine

I'm not sure exactly what first prompted American novelist Olen Steinhauer to use the crime fiction form to tell the story of the rise and fall of Communist ideology in an unnamed Eastern European country [...] Whatever the reason, it was an inspired choice--giving history and politics a chance to simmer over the flame of murder. [...] Steinhauer's first three books caught the frustration and bleakness of their Eastern European setting to heartbreaking perfection. He underscores those qualities this time with contrasting scenes of a Turkish capital bursting with life and some semblance of hope. And the irony which has colored the series to such strong effect is even more evident in "Liberation Movements." [...This is a] most important series.

--Dick Adler, Chicago Tribune

[...] beautifully crafted [...] building an intricate, suspenseful story with a surprising, character-driven ending. Steinhauer's complex character development factors in the effect of state repression and secrecy on personality and choices. His atmospheric writing also makes liberal use of irony and humor, much of it sardonic. This is a masterful series, which deserves a much larger readership.

--Lynn Harnett, Portsmouth Herald

dazzling... [A] new element is the Turkish capital, alive and yeasty compared to the drab, restricted home city of 36 Yalta Boulevard. And the emergence of a major female character—a homicide investigator looking for personal justice—shows how a skilled writer working at the top of his form can keep a series from faltering.

--Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

Cool and cerebral crime thriller, full of political nuance and bathed in irony.

--Kirkus Reviews

...maybe his best novel to date. Elegant and entertaining, and set once again in the unnamed (but fully realized) Cold War-era Eastern European country so familiar to readers of the previous novels in this remarkable series, this is a book of emotional depth and political sophistication. More than simply a thriller or “spy novel,” this is a story of rare philosophical profundity.

--James Clar, The Mean Streets/Mystery News

It's clear that [Steinhauer's] command of the thriller is stronger than ever. [...] The writing is tight, intriguing and dripping with irony. The conclusion is the best kind, inevitable. [...] LIBERATION MOVEMENTS is a story the demands much of its readers, but the deep sense of artistic integrity that lingers after the story ends is more than enough reward for any extra effort. Bravo!

--Carroll Johnson, Reviewing The Evidence

I guess I should quit being surprised that Olen keeps meeting - and exceeding - my expectations because he has done it consistently. And his latest work, Liberation Movements, is no exception. [...It is] my must read book of the year so far. [...T]his latest work takes [the series] to another level. The well developed characters, the tight prose, the quick pacing and suspense all combine with a philosophical depth to create a near perfect reading experience. [...]

I found Liberation Movements to be a thoroughly fascinating and entertaining book. [...] It doesn't take long before Steinhauer has you sucked into the story. Short, tightly written chapters push the story forward and as events unfold the tension builds. But this is done without losing the style and power of the previous books. Although the pace is quicker you still get the feeling of visiting a foreign country and of getting a glimpse into the lives of the inhabitants of this fictional, yet seemingly real, place. It has the structure in some ways of an airport paperback but has the style and depth of a literary novel. [...]

Whether you like history, crime fiction, espionage thrillers, literary novels or all of the above you will enjoy his skillful and evocative stories.Liberation Movements is his best book yet, and a work that I hope gains the recognition that it deserves.

--Kevin Holtsberry, Collected Miscellany

Using alternating time lines, reverse chronology, and disrupted sequence, Steinhauer again displays his masterful manipulation of character, plot, and reader expectations. Tightly entwined story lines, compact scenes that evoke a grim world while capturing character subtleties, and a style pared to the essential make this a fast, intriguing read.

--Ronnie H Terpening, Library Journal (starred review)