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.
36 Yalta Boulevard (The Yalta Boulevard Sequence #3)3.87 · Rating details · 970 Ratings · 67 Reviews
Olen Steinhauer's first two novels, The Bridge of Sighs and The Confession, launched an acclaimed literary crime series set in post--World War II Eastern Europe. Now he takes his dynamic cast of characters into the shadowy political climate of the 1960s.
State Security Officer Brano Sev's job is to do what his superiors ask, no matter what. Even if that means leaving his poOlen Steinhauer's first two novels, The Bridge of Sighs and The Confession, launched an acclaimed literary crime series set in post--World War II Eastern Europe. Now he takes his dynamic cast of characters into the shadowy political climate of the 1960s.
State Security Officer Brano Sev's job is to do what his superiors ask, no matter what. Even if that means leaving his post to work the assembly line in a factory, fitting electrical wires into gauges. So when he gets a directive from his old bosses---the intimidating men above him at the Ministry of State Security, collectively known for the address of their headquarters on Yalta Boulevard, a windowless building consisting of blind offices and dark cells---he follows orders.
This time he is to resume his job in State Security and travel to the village of his birth in order to interrogate a potential defector. But when a villager turns up dead shortly after he arrives, Brano is framed for the murder. Again trusting his superiors, he assumes this is part of their plan and allows it to run its course, a decision that leads him into exile in Vienna, where he finally begins to ask questions.
The answers in 36 Yalta Boulevard, Olen Steinhauer's tour-de-force political thriller, teach Comrade Brano Sev that loyalty to the cause might be the biggest crime of all....more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 11th 2006 by Minotaur Books (first published May 19th 2005)