The Cairo Affair is a good spy thriller.
The story opens up with Jibril Aziz, a CIA analyst, going into an unusual mission to Hungary to gather intelligence about a secret CIA project known as Stumbler. Then it moves to Hungary and we learn about the man Jibril is planning to meet. The man, a diplomat with the US Embassy in the country, is shot in the head in front of his wife, just after telling her he knows about her affair with a Cairo-based CIA agent. It’s a complicated story and we’re only on page 23.
Mr. Steinhauer has crafted a smart yet complicated tale. And as with many things that are complicated, some details are overlooked and the readers have to suspend their disbelief quite a lot. From the first page, it seems that the CIA algorithms are completely useless as they miss to connect the dots when five politically active Libyan exiles vanish from the face of the earth in a matter of just three days. The story moves back and forth in time and space and the reader needs to pay attention to keep track of everything that is going on and determine what is important to remember and what is just background noise and backstory. There is some gratuitous sexual references on page 17 and then a mercenary who is protecting Jibril while he infiltrates Libya during the Arab Spring acts in an absurd way, seemingly to advance the plot and the storyline.
What is the connection of the dead diplomat to the Stumbler project? How will the CIA find out who is the leak in their Cairo station? And what was the true purpose of Jibril’s mission?