THE BRIDGE OF SIGHS by Olen Steinhauer is the debut novel of an
ambitious series that begins in 1948 and is set in post-World War
II Eastern Europe. The name of the country is not specified but it
could be called Everyland. Torn apart by both allies and enemies,
the names of these small European nations have come and gone from
the headlines, yet the people there continue to struggle with
rebuilding and coming to terms with their own identity.
Should they be grateful to their Russian "Liberators" who saved
them from the terrifying hands of Nazi storm troopers? Or should
they be suspicious of their liberators when they see promises being
broken, living conditions becoming worse every day and the sickle
of Communism cutting a swath through their already meager
existence? These citizens of Everyland experienced the Iron Curtain
and all the secrets that lay behind it; many are still struggling
with the aftermath of their "liberation" fifty years later.
On his first day as a homicide detective, 22 year-old Emil Brod
felt misplaced. Freshly starched uniform, highly polished shoes and
naiveté just did not fit in with the rumpled and wrinkled
regulars sitting around the dingy squad room of the People's
Militia. His various attempts to become acquainted with his fellow
inspectors got him nothing but pointedly ignored, verbally
threatened and literally hit hard below the belt.
Being a police detective is a tough job under the best of
circumstances and seldom do they get to work under the best of
circumstances. From Dirty Harry and his conflicts with the
politically motivated Captain to Andy Sipowitz being dragged
kicking and screaming into political correctness, it's definitely a
challenging job. But when a young man tries to do that job in a
country where lawlessness and corruption are primarily practiced by
the authorities, he really has his hands full. Not to mention that
he has to ride the tram to his crime scene and has not even been
issued a gun!
THE BRIDGE OF SIGHS is not a story with easy answers and happy
endings. It will be uncomfortable for those who recall the Cold War
era and may be confusing for those who did not experience it.
However, the strength and determination of the young detective is
analogous to the courage and fortitude of those in Everyland who
are still seeking their rightful place in the world. It is an
ambitious concept, well handled by Olen Steinhauer.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on January 21, 2011