In this auspicious literary crime debut, an inexperienced homicide detective struggles amid the lawlessness of a post-WWII Eastern European city. It's August, 1948, three years after the Russians "liberated" this small nation from German Occupation. But the Red Army still patrols the capital's rubble-strewn streets, and the ideals of the Revolution are but memories. Twenty-two-year-old Detective Emil Brod, an eager young man who spent the war working on a fishing boat in Finland, finally gets his chance to serve his country, investigating murder for the People's Militia.
Set in 1948 in a small, unnamed Eastern European country devastated by WWII and still occupied by Russian troops, Steinhauer's promising debut introduces 22-year-old homicide inspector Emil Brod of the People's Militia. Brod's police academy training has prepared him for neither the rude reception he receives from his homicide comrades nor the difficult and risky assignment handed him as his initiation. The brutal murder of a moderately successful writer of patriotic songs enmeshes the bewildered Brod in an investigation hampered by his inexperience and lack of support from above as well as by other forces unknown but soon felt. Brod's trial by fire takes him through city and village, from small bars and tenements to streetwalkers and party officials. Steinhauer deftly presents minor characters, while he richly renders the country's travails as war is followed by occupation, suspicion, corruption and betrayal. The trail of murder, blackmail and wartime secrets even leads Brod to a divided Berlin, where he observes the non-stop activity at Tempelhof Airport during the Allied airlift. Perhaps the novel's weakest element is the amorphous Brod, though his appeal grows as the story progresses. One looks forward to Brod's developing into a fully realized character in future books in the series. (Feb. 28) Forecast: Fans of J. Robert Janes (who provides a blurb) in particular and of mysteries with totalitarian regime backgrounds in general should appreciate the authenticity the author brings from his experience as a Fulbright Fellow in Romania. Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from The Bridge of Sighs by Olen Steinhauer
The greeting was in his desk, the center drawer: a piece of fish-stained cardboard with a clumsily drawn stick figure. It had a circular head and an X for each eye. A fat knife separated the head from its stick body. The speech balloon said, We're on to you.
His chair wobbled insecurely beneath him.
Emil inhaled slowly, evenly. He sat in the center of the large, stale-smelling office, between two columns, and on the far wall two high, open windows did nothing to freshen the air. His tight suit constricted him as he stared above the others' heads at the clock on the yellow wall. It was the dirty, pale yellow of Austro-Hungarian demise. He had been here only forty-five minutes.
It was Monday, the twenty-third of August, 1948, 9:17 A.M. He still had a whole day to go.
He couldn't match names to their faces yet, but why should that matter? Along the walls, three of the four homicide inspectors grinned at their wide, steel desks, suppressing laughter. They were all to blame. Through the windows, street noises spilled into the hot room: clopping hooves, shouts, the occasional motor car.
His grandmother had starched his suit into a hard crust to celebrate his first day in the People's Militia. He wanted to run his finger between his collar and neck, but knew how it would look.
His exhale finally came.
The fourth inspector wasn't grinning: the stout one at the corner desk with the wide, flat, familiar-looking peasant's face. Despite the heat wave, he lounged in the leather overcoat of state security. By law, one security inspector was assigned to each Militia department, but no law ordered them to dress like that, like the Russian secret police. Yet they all did. And like their MVD counterparts, they never laughed. This one stared at Emil with the intensity of a scientist waiting for a nerve-provoked response.
In the opposite corner, beside the windows, the largest of them banged slowly at a typewriter. He was a neckless lump of clay with tin rings constricting his thick fingers. The sound of striking keys filled the room.
* * *
Emil had spoken to them once when he arrived. A twenty-two-year-old in a stiff suit with a stupid, bashful grin marking his pale features, a blond schoolboy among these dark veterans. "My name is Emil Brod, and this is my first day with Homicide."
A voice he could not put to a face had answered: "Desk's in the center."
Even then, they did not show him their eyes. But he was the only thing they were watching.
Emil settled his small hands on the desk.