Novel: Victory Square by Olen Steinhauer

Olen Steinhauer’s Yalta Boulevard Sequence reaches an epic conclusion in Victory Square (2007), which takes us to the dying days of communism in 1989. The hero of The Bridge of Sighs, Emil Brod, returns to center stage in this one. Now the chief of the Militia’s Homicide department, Brod — just days away from retirement — is lured back into past intrigues as he finds his name on a list of people from his country who are turning up dead. His investigation, which ties in with an international adventure for Liberation Movements’ Gavra Noukas, definitely has something to do with his first homicide case back in 1948. But is it also connected with the imminent collapse of the communist government?

Steinhauer brings back all the series’ major players and weaves their stories together against the epic backdrop of Soviet communism’s demise. Returning to Brod’s perspective is a smart, symbolic decision: this character’s early, wide-eyed optimism for the system in The Bridge of Sighs sees its final rude awakening here, as he realizes what a fool he’s been all along. This volume delivers all the qualities I’d come to expect from the series: energetic writing, vivid description, a complex plot. But this time it’s the brilliantly rendered setting that elevates the emotional investment; the nameless country at the heart of the series, always well realized, becomes all the more memorable as Steinhauer depicts its inexorable collapse. That, combined with the deft closure of so many character arcs, makes this the series’ most gripping read, and perhaps its most satisfying.

A spectacular series and a must-read for any fan of the spy genre; I’d placed it right up there with le CarrĂ©’s Karla trilogy. Highly recommended!

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