The Vienna Assignment, by Olen Steinhauer (HarperCollins, £18.99)
How fascinating to see the iron curtain from the other side. It is 1966 and Major Brano Sev, 50, of the Ministry for State Security of an un-named Black Sea communist satellite state, has returned from a disastrous operation; he is stripped of his rank and sent as a comrade worker to a "people's factory". Five months later, he is given a new task - to join a group of dissidents about to flee the country illegally, and to find out what the Americans are up to in Vienna. Nothing, needless to say, goes to plan and the zbrka (a Serbian word meaning the confusion of too many things) gathers quickly around him. Sev has no personal conflicts, and is loyal to both communism and his state apparatus, and it is a huge tribute to the author's skills that we can both admire and root for Sev as he works his way through the clever plot of this beautifully written spy thriller.
The First Casualty, by Ben Elton (Bantam Press, £17.99 )
Ben Elton should stick to comic crime writing - this "historical thriller", set in the mud and blood of Flanders in 1917, is both ponderous and pompous, full of laboured prose, while the author loses no opportunity to shoehorn in every detail from his obviously thorough research. The preposterous plot revolves around police Inspector Douglas Kingsley, jailed for refusing to fight in an "illogical" war, who is sprung by the army because they need someone with his police experience to go to Belgium to find out who murdered a war hero, aristocrat and celebrated poet. What follows is a farrago of idiocy. What a shame this wasn't a comedy; then we could have laughed with it instead of at it.
Marker, by Robin Cook (Macmillan, £17.99 )
Dr Robin Cook virtually invented the medical thriller in the 1970s with Coma, which was turned into a film. He followed that with a further 22 medical thrillers, most of which were bestsellers. But now, unaccountably, he seems to have written Coma all over again. Once again we have a young woman doctor, Laurie Montgomery, who stumbles on an unaccountable series of medical mishaps. Again, no one believes her, and authority figures insist that she desists from her investigations. Even fellow medical examiner and lover Jack Stapleton is sceptical. And once again the intrepid doctor herself becomes a target for the bad guys, and it is all a question of whether Jack can catch on in time to save her. The glaring similarity to Coma is not the only disturbing thing about this book; the plot is so comprehensively telegraphed that even a casual watcher of Casualty or ER will have solved it by page 100. Alas, there are a further 430 pages to go.
Rage, by Jonathan Kellerman (Michael Joseph, £17.99)
A toddler is abducted, the CCTV later producing a chilling image of the child being escorted, just like James Bulger, out of a mall. Two boys kill the child, are caught and sentenced to long spells in juvenile prisons. But that doesn't stop the continuing trail of killings and perversions associated with the case. Fertile ground indeed for psychologist Dr Alex Delaware, who is, as usual, called in to help the cops when one of the boys is murdered shortly after his release from prison. A simple revenge killing? Or the result of complex layers of delusion and perversion in the mind of a particularly wicked perpetrator? Anyone who has read Kellerman will know that it is the latter, and that the journey to understanding will be a bumpy and unpredictable one, leading to a fairly gory climax. But if you really want insight into how ordinary young boys can become seriously wicked, read William Suffcliffe's stunning novel, Bad Influence, published last year.
Olen Steinhauer (born June 21, 1970) is an American writer of spy fiction novels, including The Tourist, the Milo Weaver Trilogy, and the Yalta Boulevard Sequence. Steinhauer also created the TV series Berlin Station, focused on a fictional Central Intelligence Agency branch operating in Berlin, which began airing in 2016.
On June 21, 1970, Steinhauer was born in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. Steinhauer grew up in Virginia.
Steinhauer attended university at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Texas, Austin. He received an MFA in creative writing at Emerson College in Boston.
After graduation, Steinhauer received a year-long Fulbright grant to write a novel in Romania about the Romanian Revolution. It was called Tzara's Monocle, and when he moved to New York City afterward, he used that manuscript to secure a literary agent. However, it was with another book, the historical mystery set in Eastern Europe, The Bridge of Sighs, that Steinhauer first found publication.
His 2009 CIA novel, The Tourist, received positive reviews and is being developed for film by Sony Pictures Entertainment for Doug Liman to direct.
During the winter of 2009-10, Steinhauer was the Picador Guest Professor for Literature at the University of Leipzig's Institute for American Studies in Leipzig, Germany.
The Yalta Boulevard Sequence
The Bridge of Sighs was the first in a five-book series of thrillers chronicling the evolution of a fictional Eastern European country situated in the historical location of Ruthenia (now part of the Ukraine) during the Cold War, with one book for each decade. Each book also focuses on a different main character.
- The Bridge of Sighs (2003) — Emil Brod, 1948 (nominated for five awards)
- The Confession (2004) — Ferenc Kolyeszar, 1956
- 36 Yalta Boulevard (2005) — Brano Sev, 1966–1967. Also published as Vienna Assignment
- Liberation Movements (2006) — Brano Sev, Katja Drdova, Gavra Noukas, 1968 & 1975 (nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel)
- Victory Square (2007) — The final book in the series, dealing with 1989, the end of communism, and the return to the main character of the first book, Emil Brod.
The Milo Weaver Trilogy
- The Cairo Affair (2014)
- All the Old Knives (2015)
- The Middleman (2018)