Thursday, March 01, 2007

Books: The Bridge of Sighs (2003) and The Confession (2004), by Olen Steinhauer

There must be a word that means “to read an author’s blog before reading any of that author’s books.” Maybe the Germans have one. If they came up with weltanschauung ...

I can’t remember how I discovered Contemporary Nomad, a group blog written by a quartet of authors featuring smart posts on life and culture and a name I always sing to the tune of Re-Flex’s immortal “The Politics of Dancing.” (In my head, everything is set to music.) Once it became one of my regular stops, I decided I might as well check out the contributors’ books.

Olen Steinhauer is the site’s unofficial ringmaster and an American living in Europe. His crime novels chronicle life in a fictional unnamed nation behind the Iron Curtain.

In Sighs, set in 1948, a young homicide inspector is assigned a politically sensitive case that no one expects or wants him to solve. The novel, touching on wartime atrocities committed by both the Nazis and the Russians and including a jaunt to Berlin during the height of the Airlift, deftly introduces the country and the core group of characters that appear in subsequent books.

I liked it enough to move right on to the follow-up, and what a huge step forward it is. The Confession unfolds in 1956. The Hungarian revolution is in the air. A murder investigation involving state-supported artists triggers a personal and political awakening in a detective/frustrated writer. More than a smartly plotted mystery, The Confession lays bare the social and psychological survival methods that develop in totalitarian states.

Still to come are 36 Yalta Boulevard, Liberation Movements (recently nominated for the Best Novel Edgar) and the final book in the series. Not to mention the latest icy thriller from Steinhauer’s fellow Nomad Kevin Wignall. Then, only two more Nomads to go. Whew.

Miscellaneous: Links

I was lax in not doing an Academy Awards recap this year. (I’ll say only this: with big wins for The Departed and The Lives of Others, it was a grand year for the thriller.) Jay A. Fernandez of the Los Angeles Times looks back at the ceremony from the screenwriters’ perspective.

Also from the L.A. Times: director David Fincher and novelist James Ellroy, a man who knows something about obsession, talk Zodiac.