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Wednesday, October 4th, 2006
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Liberation Movements

by Olen Steinhauer

There's a Spy in the Closet

A review by Anna Godbersen

Olen Steinhauer's elegant spy novel Liberation Movements is imbued with a retro kind of cool. The main action takes place in 1975, and even in the small, fictional Eastern European country where Steinhauer's crime series is set, there are signs of a changing world. A hijacked plane falls from the sky, a beautiful woman reads men's thoughts, and a secret policeman named Gavra Noukas is living a closeted, but hardly sexless, life as a gay man. Gavra, who is in Istanbul on a seemingly routine assignment, is reassigned to the hijacking, which appears to be the bungled work of an Armenian group seeking reparations for the World War I-era genocide of their people. Nothing quite adds up, though, and as Gavra works the case he is unsettled by the elusive, all-seeing behavior of his mentor Brano Sev, and the opaque workings of his superiors at the Ministry for State Security. Gavra's colleague Katja Drdova, a homicide investigator, is similarly frustrated by the illogical nature of the case. But of course there is an invisible logic here, waiting to be discovered; like Ludvik Mas (another mysterious agent) Steinhauer appears distrustful of coincidences, and Liberation Movements relies on few. 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.

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