The plotting's not full of great surprise or even the crafty precision of certain genre technicians... it seems a bit undercooked. But everything else about this novel--its rich sense of place, and equally fine prose style, and its phenomenal sense of character (extending generously into the benches, so that even minor walk-on roles get finely, flintily etched)--is dazzling.
I loved Steinhauer's recent The Tourist
, which deployed a nifty knotted narrative structure to enact an equally sneaky, tricky weave of ethical uncertainty. It was a great, sly, entirely serious and utterly enjoyable iteration of the spy thriller after 9/11. So I decided to head back and see the earlier sequence of novels set in an imagined Eastern Bloc nation at the ass- or armpit-edges of post-WWII Soviet Russia. Well worth the walk-back, and I am excited to read my way up from book to book, as he daisy-chains with protagonists drawn from the sidelines of each prior novel, a Yoknatawphan oomph.
If I had more energy I might undertake a contrast between the periods Steinhauer artfully maps, the (again sly) intriguing familiarity evoked in the respective paranoid styles of the totalitarian state and the anti-terrorist democracy... but maybe with the next in the series. You can enjoy the novel even if you tamp down such uncanny echoes and hauntings.