Married. Education: University of Texas at Austin, undergraduate degree; Emerson College, M.F.A.
Writer and film producer. Has worked as a librarian, teacher, manual laborer, film producer, and author. Coproducer, with Krista Steinhauer, of film documentary Central Square, 1999. Coordinator of group blog "Contemporary Nomad."
Fulbright fellowship; production grant, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for film Central Square; Ellis Peters Historical Dagger nomination, Crime Writers' Association, Bouchercon World Mystery's Anthony Award for best historical novel, Macavity Award for best novel from Mystery Readers International, and Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination for best first novel by an American, Mystery Writers of America, all 2004, all for The Bridge of Sighs; Liberation Movements was a finalist for the 2007 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel.
The Bridge of Sighs, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2003.
The Confession, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.
36 Yalta Boulevard, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2005.
Liberation Movements, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
Victory Square, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor of poems and stories to literary journals; creator of online journal; also author of the Olen Steinhauer—News blog. Books have been translated into Swedish, French, and Japanese.
Blackstone Audiobooks recorded audio versions of The Bridge of Sighs, 2003, and The Confession, 2004.
Olen Steinhauer, an American known for penning crime novels set in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, traces his interest in that part of the world to stints as an exchange student in Croatia and as a Fulbright scholar in Romania. The fledgling author found an important niche for himself in the field of crime writing. On his Web site, Steinhauer wrote that he finds such writing "satisfying" in its "mixture of European setting and criminal element." He chooses unnamed countries for his settings, he said, because his focus is on "the psychological reality …, not in the absolute reality of all the details."
Steinhauer's first book, drawn from his Ph.D. thesis, is The Bridge of Sighs. Set in 1948, the year of the Berlin Airlift, the story follows Emil Brod, a young homicide inspector for the People's Militia, as he tries to solve two murders in a small Eastern European country. Brod's police colleagues treat him with disdain, thinking that he is a spy, and he is not even given a gun. He encounters many other obstacles as he moves from location to location to solve the murder of a well-known songwriter, Janos Crowder, who has been found beaten to death in his apartment. The fact that the murdered man was politically well connected makes the rookie inspector's job all the more difficult.
Critical response to The Bridge of Sighs was positive, and the novel received several awards and nominations. In the Houston Chronicle, P.G. Koch wrote that "what [Steinhauer] does best … is reimagine the palpable dangers of that perilously tilted postwar landscape." Edna Boardman, writing in Kliatt, called the novel a "richly drawn detective mystery." Ronnie H. Terpening wrote in Library Journal that the book is an "intelligent, finely polished debut, loaded with atmospheric detail."
Steinhauer continues his series with a second novel, The Confession. This story, set in another unnamed Eastern European country in 1956, follows an older homicide inspector, Ferenc Kolyeszar, as he investigates a murder and the apparent suicide of a prominent Communist Party member's wife. Kolyeszar has to deal not only with the intricacies of a totalitarian system, but also with his own crumbling marriage and his grisly memories of World War II. David Wright, in a review for Booklist, wrote that although the premise of a detective troubled by personal "demons is hardly new … seldom is it presented with such depth and personal intensity."
Other critics were equally impressed with The Confession. Terpening, in Library Journal, called the novel "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." Another reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented on the "deaths and deceptions snowballing grotesquely" and wrote that "the novel makes readers wonder just what Steinhauer will do for the next book in his series."
The third book in Steinhauer's series about an unnamed Communist-era Eastern European country, 36 Yalta Boulevard, features Communist spy Brano Sev, who finds himself on the outs with his Soviet bloc nation's commanders. Further troubles arise when Sev becomes suspected of treason and accused of murder. "Brano Sev is Steinhauer's most intriguing hero yet, and that's saying something," wrote David Wright in Booklist. Ronnie H. Terpening, once again writing in the Library Journal, referred to 36 Yalta Boulevard as "an imaginative, brilliantly plotted espionage thriller." Another reviewer of 36 Yalta Boulevard compared Steinhauer to a recognized "master" of the spy genre. Andi Shechter, writing on the Bookreporter.com Web site, noted: "In only his third novel, author Olen Steinhauer brings to mind the baroque, highly complicated and yet spare plots of the master, John le Carre." Shechter went on to write: "My comparison … comes from an appreciation of both authors' ability to show a distinctly non-glamorous everyday espionage, devoid of ringing heartfelt flag-waving or patriotism."
Liberation Movements continues the story of Sev, who this time is supervising two younger agents in their investigation of a murder in Prague in 1968. As the story unfolds, the murder becomes linked with a plane hijacking by Armenian terrorists. Library Journal contributor Terpening noted that the author "again displays his masterful manipulation of character, plot, and reader expectations." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Liberation Movements a "cool and cerebral crime thriller, full of political nuance and bathed in irony."
In Victory Square, police chief Emil Brod—first seen in The Bridge of Sighs—pursues the murderers of retired Army general Yuri Kolev. The crime is deeper than it seems on the surface: "everything seems to be connected to a forty-year-old case," declared Tim Davis in a BookLoons Web site review, "when an old Gestapo agent had been sentenced to hard labor, and now—if Brod's instincts are correct—someone is determined to eliminate a select list of individuals," including Kolev and Brod himself. Also, it's 1989, Communist governments are toppling all across Europe, and his fellow citizens, "inspired by the recent fall of the Berlin Wall," stated a Publishers Weekly reviewer, are about to "rise up to overthrow their Communist leaders." "Totalitarianism may have been intolerable," Kier Graff wrote in a Booklist review, "but … uncertain times can make citizens nostalgic for known evils." "Brod must now figure out why [he and his friends have] suddenly become targets," said a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "He needs answers, and he gets them—but by the time he does, he's no longer quite the good man he was."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2004, David Wright, review of The Confession, p. 835; May 1, 2005, David Wright, review of 36 Yalta Boulevard, p. 1539; July 1, 2007, Keir Graff, review of Victory Square, p. 37.
Entertainment Weekly, March 12, 2004, Michelle King, review of The Confession, p. 120.
Houston Chronicle, May 4, 2003, P.G. Koch, "Shades of Gray: Nominal Hero Seen in Terrifying Light," p. 19.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2005, review of 36 Yalta Boulevard, p. 505; June 1, 2006, review of Liberation Movements, p. 544; June 15, 2007, review of Victory Square.
Kliatt, November, 2003, Edna Boardman, review of The Bridge of Sighs, p. 44.
Library Journal, December, 2002, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of The Bridge of Sighs, p. 184; January, 2004, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of The Confession, p. 166, Scott R. DeMarco, review of The Bridge of Sighs, p. 183; April 15, 2005, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of 36 Yalta Boulevard, p. 80; May 15, 2006, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of Liberation Movements, p. 95.
Publishers Weekly, January 20, 2003, review of The Bridge of Sighs, p. 59; December 1, 2003, review of The Confession, p. 38; May 15, 2006, review of Liberation Movements, p. 51; June 11, 2007, review of Victory Square, p. 41.
Texas Monthly, June 1, 2005, Mike Shea, review of 36 Yalta Boulevard, p. 64.
Armchair Interviews, http://www.armchairinterviews.com/ (April 12, 2008), Sharon Broom, review of Liberation Movements.
BookLoons, http://www.bookloons.com/ (April 12, 2008), Tim Davis, review of Victory Square.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (April 12, 2008), Andi Shechter, review of 36 Yalta Boulevard; Maggie Harding, review of The Bridge of Sighs.
Olen Steinhauer Home Page, http://www.olensteinhauer.com (April 12, 2008), author profile.