After the fits of self-questioning that inevitably attack me when I read critical reviews, it was a real pleasure today to see the glowing, starred review from the last of the four pre-publication magazines, Booklist. It’s below, in its uncorrected proof form (I just hope the corrected proof doesn’t take out the last line!):
*STAR* Steinhauer, Olen. 36 Yalta Boulevard. June 2005. 320p. St. Martin’s/Minotaur, $23.95 (0-312-33201-7).
Brano Sev is Steinhauer’s most intriguing hero yet, and that’s saying something. The disappointments and betrayals of 20 years have seasoned the earnest young apparatchik first seen menacing the background in The Bridge of Sighs (2002), the debut of this loose-knit Eastern Bloc series. In that tale, Sev was a poignant mix of hope and despair, idealism and ironic apathy that landed him squarely in Graham Greeneland. Now, it’s 1966, and after being framed by a fellow spy, Sev has a chance to redeem himself with the Party by tracking a person of interest who has appeared in his childhood village. When a badly slashed corpse turns up, it seems as though we’re headed toward a mystery, but Steinhauer has many, many more surprises in store, and we are led with Sev into zbrka, a perplexing maze that takes him to Vienna, where he is left out in the cold until an old flame flares up. With its shifting perceptions, pervasive paranoia, and truly unpredictable plot, this will be savored by readers of well-crafted espionage ranging from Alan Furst to John le Carre’ —David Wright