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Liberation Movements: A Novel

Liberation Movements: A Novel

3.1 6
by Olen Steinhauer

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Olen Steinhauer's acclaimed literary crime series set in a fictional country in Eastern Europe began in the heady post--World War II era and has taken readers from the first noise of revolution through to the chaos of the 1960s and '70s.

The year is 1975, and one of the People's Militia homicide investigators is on a plane out of the capital, bound for


Olen Steinhauer's acclaimed literary crime series set in a fictional country in Eastern Europe began in the heady post--World War II era and has taken readers from the first noise of revolution through to the chaos of the 1960s and '70s.

The year is 1975, and one of the People's Militia homicide investigators is on a plane out of the capital, bound for Istanbul. The plane is hijacked by Armenian terrorists, but before the Turkish authorities can fulfill their demands, the plane explodes in midair.

Two investigators---Gavra Noukas, a secret policeman, and Katja Drdova, a homicide detective---are assigned to the case. Both believe that Brano Sev, their enigmatic superior and himself a career secret policeman, is keeping them in the dark both about the details of the case and all its players and about the true motives of their investigation, but they can't figure out why. That is, until they learn that everything is connected to a seven-year-old murder, a seemingly insignificant murder that has had far-reaching consequences.

The politics and history for which Olen Steinhauer's novels have been most praised turn intimate and highly compelling in this ambitious new novel.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Steinhauer's dazzling fourth book in his series about various police and intelligence agents in an unnamed Communist-era Eastern European country gives a large role to Brano Sev, the seriously conflicted spy who starred in the previous entry, 36 Yalta Boulevard (2005). Sev sums up the new book's theme when he says to a younger subordinate, "Intelligence work is precisely what it says it's about intelligence. We are not murderers." There's some irony here: we know that Sev has killed several people himself. But there's also an unexpected note of humanity, as Sev supervises the investigation by two junior agents of a murder in Russian-occupied Prague in 1968 that's later tied to a plane hijacked by Armenian terrorists on its way to Istanbul in 1975. Another new element is the Turkish capital, alive and yeasty compared to the drab, restricted home city of 36 Yalta Boulevard. And the emergence of a major female character a homicide investigator looking for personal justice shows how a skilled writer working at the top of his form can keep a series from faltering. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This fourth entry in Steinhauer's (The Bridge of Sighs) Eastern Bloc crime series deposits us in the late summer of 1968, as "the flowers of Prague's spring" are being crushed by the Warsaw Pact's invading tanks. In a nearby unnamed country, Brano Sev of the Ministry of State Security, the protagonist of 36 Yalta Boulevard, is now a colonel in his late fifties. He and his officers, Capt. Gavra Noukas and homicide inspector Katja Drdova, all have secrets to hide and a major crime to solve. Armenian hijackers have blown up an airplane en route to Istanbul, aboard which was a fellow officer of Armenian origin. Was the Ministry involved in the plane's destruction? Is there a connection to a crime committed seven years earlier? To find the answers, Gavra and Katja must confront their own demons. Using alternating time lines, reverse chronology, and disrupted sequence, Steinhauer again displays his masterful manipulation of character, plot, and reader expectations. Tightly entwined story lines, compact scenes that evoke a grim world while capturing character subtleties, and a style pared to the essential make this a fast, intriguing read. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 4/1/06.]-Ronnie H. Terpening, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 protege 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 emigre 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 volatileaffair. 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.
From the Publisher

“It is an exhilarating and enjoyable ride.” —Los Angeles Times

“An inspired choice---giving history and politics a chance to simmer over the flame of murder.” —Chicago Tribune

“Dazzling . . . a skilled writer working at the top of his form.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Steinhauer again displays his masterful manipulation of character, plot, and reader expectations. . . . A fast, intriguing read.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Cool and cerebral crime thriller.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
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Yalta Boulevard Quintet , #4
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Read an Excerpt

Liberation Movements

By Olen Steinhauer

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2006 Olen Steinhauer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0922-8




* * *

"Two days ago — Saturday — we find you in the middle of Ceské Budejovice, walking the main street in a daze. Correct me if I'm wrong, please. You don't have the documents to be in Ceské Budejovice, because you're supposed to be here, in Prague. You're a student of ..." The Slovak officer bent over the table, the ceiling lamp reflecting off on his hairless scalp as he squinted at his clipboard. "Musicology. A musician?"

"I study theory," said Peter, "but I don't play."

"I see." As the officer stood, his chair scratched the stone floor. "I'm not a mystic, comrade; I can't read minds. So, before sitting down with you here, I ask the faculty; I ask your roommate, this Josef. A feisty one, he is. Almost spits in my face when he tells me you're in Austria by now — safe from the Russian tanks that, as he puts it, will never crush the flowers of Prague's spring." The officer rubbed the edge of his long nose, mustache twitching. "But headstrong Josef is wrong, because by the time of his rash statement you're back in Prague, aren't you? Our esteemed Warsaw Pact comrade-soldiers have brought you and other sundry hooligans back from the Austrian border. Funny, no?"

He blinked twice, waiting, but Peter didn't answer.

"According to your roommate, you left on the twentieth of August, just before the liberating tanks arrived. With your two friends. And now — Josef Kucera tells me — you're all free." The officer tapped a brief rhythm on the tabletop. "Josef tells me that you and your friends will take the plight of Czechoslovakia to the ears of the world. He's very melodramatic, don't you think?"

Ten minutes earlier, this Slovak officer had introduced himself as Comrade Captain Poborsky, but Peter had trouble matching that name to the bald, mustached uniform that squatted beside him and rapped knuckles on the table.

"Yes," Peter told him. "Josef can sometimes be melodramatic."

Captain Poborsky stood again. "Now, I feel relatively sure, at least, of who you are. Peter Husák, student of musicology, amateur rabble-rouser. We have reports on you — nothing deeply troubling, just the occasional demonstration against Russian ... occupation, as you put it. Would you put it that way?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"Trust me. As a man who works closely with the Russians, I can honestly inform you that their intent here is not occupation, nor is it to control us — a country simply cannot control the actions of another. No, their intent is normalization. The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic had already been invaded before the twentieth of August — by ideologues and saboteurs from the West. They just didn't use tanks. And the Warsaw Pact soldiers you see around here, they're volunteers from all the People's Republics, helping us to begin the process of normalization. Nineteen sixty-eight will go down as the year Western expansionism was stopped in its tracks." He tilted his head. "You're a bright kid, I can tell that. You know what I'm talking about."

Poborsky — and this was hardest to believe — winked.

"I'm less interested in your minor transgressions — under the sway, of course, of foreign influences — than in the identity of your friends. The ones you left with. I'll find out soon enough, but you might as well tell me now. You see, with those open borders we have no idea who's in or out of the country. It's a bureaucratic nightmare. You can imagine."

Peter affirmed this with a quick nod.


Peter focused beyond the bald Státní bezpecnost, or simply StB, officer to the corner of the damp room. From there, Poborsky's assistant, a stocky Czech worker with a three-day beard, had stared at Peter during the whole talk. He looked tired in the eyes, because Peter was only one of hundreds he'd had to manhandle from their humid cells down to this cool basement over the last week.

"Peter," said Captain Poborsky. "I don't have all day."

"Toman. My best friend. Toman Samulka."

The state security officer produced a pencil and a notepad from his breast pocket. "Toman's twenty-two as well?"


"And the other friend?"

Saying Toman's name was as simple as revealing your favorite brand of beer. Budweiser Budvar. Bood-vahr, almost liking it merely for the rhythm of the name.

"Come on." Captain Poborsky bent so his hands were on his knees and he was looking into Peter's face. "Our prisons are bloated, but that has no effect on how many jokers we send to them."

"Ivana Vogler."

"You're not lying to me, right?"

"Of course not."

"And where are they now?"

"In Austria."

"You're sure of this?"

"I watched them cross over."

"And you?"

"What about me?"

"You're not in Austria," said the captain, "though that's why you left Prague. Your two comrades, Toman and Ivana, they made it. And you — as you've admitted — were there to watch them cross the border. Why did you stay behind?"

"Because ..." Peter had talked himself into this lie without thinking, and now he'd have to hold on to it. "I don't know why."

"Do you regret your decision?"


"Sitting here, now, in this claustrophobic room. Do you regret your decision to remain in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic?"

Peter raised his head to look at the officer squarely, because this might save him. "No," he said. "I'd never leave my country."

They held him two more days in a hot cell with ten other students who had been picked up in western Czechoslovakia on their way to Austria, but the questions were over. He sat against the stone wall, sweating, and listened to his fellow prisoners, their pronouncements of outrage and their honest but short-lived bursts of fear. Daniel, a Slovak philologist, announced that he was going underground as soon as they let him out. "There'll be partisans, you can bet on it. And I'll join them. Fucking Russians."

The tanks had entered Prague on the night of 20 August, last Tuesday. The crowds that over that heady spring and summer had filled the streets, forming impromptu committees and rallies to reevaluate socialism in their country, came out once again, now to debate theories of socialist independence with soldiers on the backs of tanks. Dub ek had insisted that no one fight the soldiers — he didn't want another Budapest — and so in nearly all cases the arguments were only verbal.

But Peter had seen none of it. As soon as the tanks were sighted in the suburbs, he and Toman and Ivana loaded up their rucksacks and packed themselves into the back of a Russian ZIL truck Toman's father had borrowed from his factory. That only took them as far as Tábor, where the engine gave out. Toman's father kissed all their cheeks, wiped away a single tear, and took the train back to Prague. Then they began to walk.

When the prisoners' lectures went on, Peter smiled and nodded but seldom spoke. He had marched with these kinds of people before the tanks arrived, never really understanding the slogans. He understood the language — socialismu lidskou tvár, socialism with a human face, was one of his favorites — but politics and economics had never been in his sphere of interest. He'd grown up in this system, and it was because of this system that he'd been able to leave that miserable farm in Encs and begin studies in Prague. Yet he marched, because, more than language or even music, he was interested in Ivana Vogler, girlfriend of his oldest friend, Toman. When she announced that it was time for them all to become politically involved, he learned to march and shout as if he knew what it was all about.

"You're not a spy, are you?"

Peter looked up as Daniel squatted beside him. "What?"

The philologist scratched his beard. "You sit here and listen to everything we say, as if you're collecting information. Where did you resist?"

"I tried to get out. To Austria."

"But you didn't make it?"

"The soldiers caught up with me."

Daniel glanced back at the others in the cell. "Did they get anything out of you? Names?"

"I didn't have any names to give."

"So you're one of us?" He grinned. "A hooligan?"

"I marched," said Peter. "I signed petitions. I suppose that makes me a hooligan, too."



* * *

It is eleven at night, Tuesday the twenty-second of April, 1975, when Libarid Terzian climbs out of the Trabant in front of Departures. His wife, Zara, and Vahe, his five-year-old boy, help him with the sticky trunk. It's far past his son's bedtime, but he lets Vahe, struggling and tottering but proud, carry his small suitcase to the curb while he kisses Zara. She's teary again, as if she knows something she shouldn't, and for an instant Libarid fears she does know.

"You're going to be exhausted when you land," she says, sniffing.

"Can always depend on the People's Militia choosing the cheapest and most inconvenient transportation."

She gives him a wet smile. No, she knows nothing — this is just the weepiness you grow accustomed to when your wife is a traditional Armenian who's never believed she could be European.

So he kisses her, gives Vahe a hug and a pat on the back. "You're the man of the house now." Vahe likes this at first, but suddenly it seems to frighten him, and he clutches his mother's hand. That quick movement hurts Libarid somewhere in his throat. He wishes he could bring the boy along, but that's just not possible. Not yet.

He clears his throat and waves briefly as they drive off into the blackness, south toward the Capital. Once they're out of sight, he takes a packet of Carpa i from his pocket and lights a cigarette. Zara hates it when he smokes.

He doesn't yet feel the freedom but knows it will come, clearing away this melancholy. On the plane, or maybe not until he's lost in the winding back streets of Istanbul, finally loosed from the chains of matrimony.

A taxi pulls up to the curb, and from it emerge a man and a woman. The man is very large, nearly bald, with a small, flat boxer's nose, like the most dangerous lumpenprole he's ever seen. But it's the young woman Libarid has trouble turning away from. Her features are very delicate, and the combination of long black hair with pale blue eyes — he can't stop staring as her companion takes their bags from the trunk and pays the driver.

Libarid steps on his cigarette, opens the glass door to the airport, and smiles. She smiles back as she enters. Her big companion, whose flat face is riveted by acne scars, only frowns.

A sign over the Turkish Airlines desk announces that check-in for the 1:00 A.M. flight to Istanbul isn't until midnight. He has an hour, so he carries his bag to the gift shop, where behind a counter a sixteen-year-old girl sits on a stool, focused on the crossword puzzle in her lap.

"Excuse me," says Libarid.

She says to the crossword, "Yeah?"

"Writing paper?"

Without looking up she reaches to the wall of shelves behind her and grabs a package of fifty sheets, then places it on the counter. "Fifty-four korona."

"A pen, too," he says. "And an envelope."

She sighs and finally looks at him. She drops from her stool and climbs a wooden stepladder to canisters of ballpoint pens. She peers down. "How many?"

"Two pens, one envelope." Then: "No. Two envelopes. I might mess up one."

The girl is not amused by his indecision.

Libarid finds a seat among rows of other travelers in the waiting area. By a high window facing the street, Orthodox Jews — a family — stretch out in silence on their bags, the children dozing; in other chairs sit more crossword players. But what he notices is two rows ahead of him — the beautiful pale-eyed woman and her companion. They don't speak to each other, but the big man sometimes looks around, as if he's protecting her.

Libarid's procrastinating, and he knows it.

So he takes out the writing paper, uncaps the pen, and writes,

My dearest Zara,

No, that's too misleading. He flips to a fresh sheet.

Dear Zara,

He stares at that, repeating the two words until they become a stream of nonsensical syllables. Then he places another clean sheet on top.

Zara —

And isn't sure how to proceed from there.

Two rows up, the woman touches her companion's knee, points to a far corner, and speaks. She must be whispering, because Libarid can't hear a thing. The big man walks with her to the tiled corridor that leads past pay phones to the bathrooms.

Libarid takes the two-toned pamphlet from his bag: INTERPOL INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CRIME AND COOPERATION IN ISTANBUL, 23–26 April 1975. Emil Brod — Libarid still can't bring himself to call his younger friend "chief" — explained his understanding of the conference. "Brano feels the invitation's largely to seduce us in the East to share more of our resources."

"Why me?"

"You've got a wife and child. You're the safest bet."

"I see."

Emil winked at him. "But as far as you're concerned, it's a vacation interrupted now and then by dull lectures."

He was right. Out of four days of presentations, there's only one that provokes any interest from him: a Swedish delegate, Roland Adelsvärd, on "The Encouragement and Harboring of Terrorists by Various States." Otherwise, it will be a long four days.

Leading, though, to a lifetime of freedom.

When he looks up again the woman is at the end of the tiled corridor, at the pay phones. She speaks into a receiver, nodding, and then places a hand on the wall for support. As if the conversation is very emotional. Then she hangs up, takes a breath, and dials a second number. This call is without emotion, and brief. Once she's done she turns quickly and smiles just as the big man appears, hiking up his pants. He guides her back to their seats, a hand on her elbow.

At midnight, Libarid puts the letter, which hasn't progressed beyond the first word, into his bag and joins a long line at the Turkish Air counter. Halfway up are the woman and her companion. Perhaps because she feels him staring, she turns around fully and settles her pale eyes on him.

He swallows.

She smiles.




* * *

Peter and four other students were released without comment on the twenty-eighth of August, 1968, and for a moment the five of them paused, sweating under the low-lying sun in front of the sooty yellow façade of Bartolomejská 9, which had once been a convent and was now a prison. "Does anyone have a cigarette?" Peter asked as he took off the dirty old pinstriped jacket he'd worn for the last week.

A fat young man started to rummage through his pockets.

"Not here," said Daniel, and he led them down the street, then around the corner to Národní, where they walked in silence to the Vltava. Halfway across Legions' Bridge, Sharpshooters' Island was so thick with trees that, from a distance, it looked to Peter as if a forest were growing out of the water. They stopped at the beginning of the bridge, across from the Café Slavia, and the five of them shared three cigarettes, staring at the sluggish Vltava and, upriver, the Charles Bridge and its rows of statues.

"What now?" said the fat one.

"I'm going to find those partisans," said a red-faced student who had, in the jail cell, seemed the most frightened.

"Not me," said Daniel. He stroked a hairy cheek. "I'm going to find my girlfriend and we'll get our papers straight and move out to the provinces. I'm too old for this. I want to raise a family."

"How old are you?" asked Peter.


They all nodded.

Peter thanked the fat student for the cigarette, shook all their hands, and walked slowly northeast from the river, to the Karolinum district, where the university lecture halls were scattered. Some walls still commanded the Russians, in red paint, to go home, while others were coated in fresh layers of white. Soldiers wandered the streets, Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, watching him pass. Some were Russian, others Polish or Hungarian, and more races he could not immediately identify. The length and breadth of the Warsaw Pact — excepting, of course, the Romanians, who had refused to take part in the invasion. It was because of people like these — the devoted members of the socialist neighborhood — that his life had changed so radically in the past couple of months. Before, he'd been a mild student examining the fluid structures and semantics of musical forms. There had been nothing hanging over his head, no question of the political landscape, no weight of guilt.

He stopped in the Torpédo, a small, smoky bar just around the corner from Republic Square, on Celetná, and bought a half liter of lukewarm Budvar. He took the beer to a cool corner and settled at a scarred wooden table half in darkness. In other corners large men in dirty workers' coveralls sipped glasses of brandy. Though the bar was nearly full, it was silent, like a film that had lost its sound track.

Peter used a fingernail on the tabletop, scratching out a rough star with bowed lines. He remembered that field outside ceské Budejovice, the chopped, knee-high cornstalks, and running. Then he looked up at the sound of boots clattering up the steps outside. The door opened.


Excerpted from Liberation Movements by Olen Steinhauer. Copyright © 2006 Olen Steinhauer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

OLEN STEINHAUER was inspired to write his Eastern European crime series---including The Bridge of Sighs, The Confession, 36 Yalta Boulevard, and now Liberation Movements---while on a Fulbright Fellowship in Romania. The Bridge of Sighs was shortlisted for the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award, the Edgar Award for best first novel, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, and the Macavity Award. Steinhauer was raised in Virginia and currently lives in Budapest.

OLEN STEINHAUER, the New York Times bestselling author of nine previous novels, is a Dashiell Hammett Award winner, a two-time Edgar award finalist, and has also been shortlisted for the Anthony, the Macavity, the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and the Barry awards. Raised in Virginia, he lives in New York and Budapest, Hungary.

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Liberation Movements 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
On April 23, 1975, Turkish Airlines Flight 54 explodes in flight following a hijacking by the Armenian Army of the Liberation. Soviet bloc country homicide detective Katja Drdova is assigned to investigate. However, since the incident is an act of terrorism by an enemy of the state, Secret Police agent Gavra Noukas also makes inquiries under the close scrutiny of his mentor Major Brano Sev as a police peer of the lead cop, Libarid Terzian, is of Armenian descent and was on board. At the same time of the tragedy and the subsequent official investigations, Czech student Peter Husak, a victim of the Soviet crushing of the 1968 Prague Spring, resurfaces. However, the case seems to swing away from Peter towards a female passenger Zrinka Martrich, whose lack of information in official records makes her the prime suspect. Gavra interviews her doctor and her brother. He shares a tryst with the sibling, but finds the medical practitioner murdered. --- This Iron Curtain historical police procedural is a terrific thriller that hooks the audience from the onset as readers follow an intriguing mentorship that teaches the rookies sleuthing techniques and political considerations that often trump the investigation (sounds like the US Attorneys scenario). Training Sev also controls the official inquires. The story line is fast-paced but it is the unnamed Soviet satellite country bought vividly to life that makes this a top rate whodunit. --- Harriet Klausner
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