The Confession Paperback – Mar 10 2005
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“Postwar Eastern Europe chillingly evoked by a storyteller... who understands the relentless conjunction between character and suspense.... Good enough to suggest comparison with Graham Greene; place the author in the forefront of contemporary suspense writers...” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“This is a gripping and fully realized portrayal of a man whose strengths, flaws, struggle, and ultimate fall are emblematic of the fate of Eastern Europe itself. While skillfully developed, the intricacies of plot, particularly the story behind the diverse crimes, fade to relative insignificance in light of Ferenc's heartrending 'confession'. Densely atmospheric and strongly recommended...” ―Library Journal (starred review)
“Beyond delivering an involving police procedural in an intriguing setting, the author relates with spare irony his narrator's psychological journey.... [The Confession] is enthusiastically recommended for fans of well-made hard-boiled and noir fiction.” ―Booklist (starred review)
“Bigger in scope... than The Bridge of Sighs [...Steinhauer's original and mesmerizing first mystery]... the novel makes readers wonder just what Steinhauer will do for the next book in his series...” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Olen Steinhauer's widely acclaimed Eastern European crime series, which he was inspired to write while on a Fulbright fellowship, is a two-time Edgar Award finalist and has been shortlisted for the Anthony, the Macavity, the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, and the Barry awards. The series includes 36 Yalta Boulevard, The Bridge of Sighs, Liberation Movements, and Victory Square. Steinhauer is also the author of the bestselling Milo Weaver series, including The Nearest Exit and The Tourist. Raised in Virginia, Steinhauer lives with his family in Budapest, Hungary.See all Product Description
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The book opens in 1956 with cracks developing in the Iron Curtain - specifically the uprising in Hungary and the release of dissidents from the communist work camps/prisons. With all this "change" in the air, life still goes on for our police force and our hero, Ferenc. Back at the station house he is tasked with "solving" both the disappearance of the young wife of a Party member, and the apparent suicide of a has-been member of the underground art world. To add to the mix, an emissary from Moscow shows up to keep an eye on Ferenc and his peers, providing "direction" when necessary with dealing with the inevitable protests, and adding one more level of paranoia to their day to day existence. In the not so distant background Ferenc is wrestling with his all but failed marriage.
Our hero is personally involved in all of the above - at times acting as judge, jury and executioner - all the while looking over his shoulder. There is a lot of the proverbial spaghetti thrown at the wall here - with a multitude of sub-plots, twists and turns - and although some of it sticks to the wall, it also dries quickly. As stated the descriptive writing is excellent; the author brilliantly portraying the dismal existence inside of prison camps, the terror of being called in for "questioning" by the authorities, and even the underground art world party scene. Unfortunately I was disappointed with both the lack of depth of the characters and the predictable story-line - which all conveniently ties together at the conclusion. As wonderful as the attention to detail is - this is still a story we've seen/read many times before. (While reading The Confession and Bridge Of Sighs I couldn't help but make the comparison of witnessing a talented movie director working with a mediocre script.)
Good but not great.
Set in 1956, The Confession centers on Ferenc Kolyeszar, a member of a state police unit (the People's Militia) in the Capital, but also an author with connections to the underground literary community. Neighboring Hungarians are experimenting with freedom and pulling away from Moscow until that revolt is brutally repressed. During sympathetic protests in the Capital, the commissar-like Russian Kaminsky puts the police unit in the uncomfortable and unfamiliar role of repressor. Ferenc is less than fully cooperative.
At the same time, Ferenc's partner pursues a seemingly fruitless investigation of an apparent suicide with links to the art world while another member of the unit digs into the unsolved murder of a colleague who had been investigating a rape and murder that others would as soon left alone. Ferenc's own investigation of the disappearance of the beautiful young wife of a powerful industrialist takes an unexpected turn.
Ferenc's marriage is failing and he suspects his police partner is cuckolding him. He takes to heavy drinking and spending nights away from home. Multiple pressures build on Ferenc until he takes some decidedly rash actions.
Steinhauer pulls the various strands of the story together. His close examination of the brutality inside a forced labor camp for political prisoners is both chilling and brilliant. The closing forty pages were as good an ending as I have read in quite some time - a 'wow'. Highly recommended.
The first few pages (dare I say chapters) of The Confession gave me a feeling of "oh no...." because for starters I really liked the main character of Emil in Bridge of Sighs and I really learned to dislike or at best distrust the other inspectors that Emil worked with. I really thought the author was off his rocker and reaching far too much to expect to carry forth a series switching to another character, especially a big beefy guy with rings on his fingers who sits in the corner typing.
Another reviewer said he was glad that he stuck with it, and so am I. I actually stopped reading it two chapters in for a few weeks, and lamented to my wife that I wanted to get into it but I just couldn't. So I buckled down and re-engaged, and let me just tell you that if you're an Olen Steinhauer fan you will not be disappointed. How the author managed to switch characters and keep the series moving so well, I do not know, but he absolutely did.
And without the ground work of the what-seems-boring beginning of the book, you can't really appreciate the more eventful sections. I hate to take away from Bridge of Sighs and I can't believe I'm saying this, but The Confession might just be my favorite Steinhauer book yet.