In 1975, clashing cops investigate the explosion of a Turkish passenger plane.
The story is told in short chapters from the perspective of multiple characters. Three emerge: Peter Husak, a Czech student in the eye of the revolutionary storm in 1968; Gavra Noukas, a young member of the secret police of an unnamed USSR satellite state; and Katja Drdova, an even younger homicide detective in the same country. Both Gavra and Katja are called in to investigate when, on April 23, 1975, Turkish Airlines Flight 54 blows up in mid-air after being hijacked by the Army of the Liberation, an Armenian terrorist group. Katja’s colleague Libarid Terzian was aboard the plane and cannot be immediately cleared of suspicion because of his Armenian heritage. This link brings Katja into the probe. Major Brano Sev, the hero of Steinhauer’s 36 Yalta Boulevard (2005), here appears to be a bluff bureaucrat, guiding his protégé Gavra, a closeted homosexual with a healthy libido. Indeed Brano, whom Gavra calls “the old man,” feeds his underlings (and the reader) bits of evidence piecemeal, challenging both to put the disparate pieces together. The saga of Peter Husak, ensnared in Prague Spring, runs as a parallel narrative to the terrorism plot until, late in the story, his alternate identity and its relation to the other protagonists is revealed. A suspicious German émigré leads to a list of likely terrorists, and Katja uncovers a message left at their hotel by a young woman passenger named Zrinka Martrich. The scarcity of official information about Zrinka raises red flags; Gavra visits a doctor who treated Zrinka for mental illness as well as her charismatic brother, with whom he later enters into a volatile affair. When Gavra returns to the doctor, he finds him murdered, a chilling indication that he’s on the right track.
Cool and cerebral crime thriller, full of political nuance and bathed in irony.