Former Austinite OLEN STEINHAUER (currently of Budapest) invents a fictional Soviet bloc nation circa 1967 as the setting for 36 YALTA BOULEVARD (St. Martin’s Minotaur), the third in a series of brainy espionage novels featuring commie spy Brano Sev. Sev has fallen out of favor with the comrade lieutenant general, and his new, nasty assignment leaves him bruised, confused, and suspected of treason. A retro atmosphere accounts for much of 36 Yalta Boulevard’s entertainment value; lacking cell phones and computers, these spooks operate with surreptitious calls from phone booths and coded notes dropped behind park benches. Despite the sometimes stolid tone, Steinhauer’s world of shadow and fog succeeds by harking back to politico thrillers that were about real politics (think Graham Greene and Len Deighton), not flash-bang gizmos.
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