The Bridge of Sighs is the first in set of five books set in a fictional Eastern European country between 1948 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989; each book is set in a different decade. In the first book it is 1948 and we follow Emil Brod, a young recruit in the People’s Militia, as he investigates the murder of a state songwriter in the newly liberated country. The reader discovers the vast gulf between the wealthy and the ordinary people has not been altered by the people’s republic and communism, there is just a different elite. Emil follows the clues, despite the efforts of members of the party hierarchy and his uncooperative colleagues to dissuade him, going to Berlin during the Allied airlift, and getting involved with the seductive Lena Crowder, the songwriter’s widow. I really enjoyed this novel,which was a blend of police procedural, political treatise and love story, and it well deserved the shortlisting for the CWA Ellis Peters, Barry, Macavity, Anthony and Edgar Awards. The writing style is smooth and the narrative is full of interesting characters especially Emil’s “red” Grandfather, Avram Brod, a man with a sad past.
I look forward to reading the rest of this series set in a part of the world where “liberation” after the Second World War left a bitter legacy for the population. I think I could designate The Bridge of Sighs, Animal Farm for crime fiction fans.
Author Olen Steinhauer was raised in Texas, but was inspired to write this series while studying on a Fulbright Fellowship in Romania.
The “thick Muscovites” were those men who, after spending the 1930s throwing rocks and shooting politicians, had escaped to Moscow during the war, where they camped out in hotels. General Secretary Mihai had been among them. They appeared again just behind the Red Army to set up the interim government, and with the 1946 elections had the remarkable good fortune of being voted immediately into power.
They were called “thick” because when they returned from Moscow they were almost without exception, so plump their own families had trouble recognizing them.