Writing about Reading: Victory Square

October 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s taken me a couple of days of mourning before I could review the last of Olen Steinhauer’s Yalta books, Victory Square. I have enjoyed all five books very much, but all good things must come to an end, and that makes me a bit sad.

Endings are a theme in Victory Square; careers end, lives end, governments end. In several ways, Victory Square brings the story started in Bridge of Sighs full circle. Emil Brod, the hero of Bridge of Sighs, returns as the hero of Victory Square. In the first book, he was at the very beginning of his career; here, he is a few days from retirement. Likewise, the anonymous Eastern Bloc country he lives in (which I thought was Poland, but the author’s notes at the end of this book say it is based on Romania) was in its infancy in Bridge of Sighs; here, it is about to fall.

I can’t say too much about the plot without spoiling the fun, but suffice to say that Brod’s first case comes back to haunt him in a big way, and he must call upon the help of his current and past coworkers and friends in order to survive and strike back. But Brod and his compatriots aren’t the young, healthy men they once were, and age is as much a villain in this novel as are the men Brod is trying to stop.

Steinhauer learned a lesson about narrative structure from the previous installment in the series, Liberation Movements. I took issue with how Steinhauer switched from third person to first person in that book. In this, he sticks with first person: although there are two point of view characters, Brod and Gavra Noukas, we learn everything through the filter of Brod’s after-the-fact account. Sure, there are some things it’s hard to believe that Gavra “told” Brod, but it works a lot better overal than the structure of Liberation Movements.

The pacing and tension is, as always, top-notch. At no point in the book are you sure what will happen next. Because it is a first-person story, you know Brod lives at least long enough to write all of this down; nevertheless, I found myself wondering if Brod was going to survive. Part of the reason for my uncertainty is due to a trick Steinhauer pulled in his other first-person installment in this series, The Confession. In that book, another character steps in at the end to tell the reader what happened to the narrator after he wrote his confession. I thought that Victory Square might end similarly; whether or not it does is something you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Olen Steinhauer had earned a place on my “must read” list with his Milo Weaver series, and Victory Square only served to further cement his position. As sad as I am that there will be no more new Yalta books (nor, apparently, any new Milo Weaver novels), I eagerly await the next story Steinhauer publishes.

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