You Know What's Going On by Olen Steinhauer

Olen Steinhauer, American writer. Budapest, 2010.
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I was disheartened when Olen Steinhauer decided to shut down the group blog Contemporary Nomad at the end of last year. I was a big fan of the authors that posted and enjoyed both interacting with them in this limited way and hearing about what they were up to.  But I understand blogging isn’t always a wise investment for authors nor is it easy to find time to keep it up.

A link in my stat tracker program reminded me of the good old days of the blog and led me back to Olen’s home page (where he is now using Tumblr). Which in turn led me to his novella You Know What’s Going On which is the subject of this post.

The story (originally published in Agents of Treachery, an espionage-fiction anthology edited by Otto Penzler) is classic Steinhauer: engrossing and full of suspense even as it is thought provoking with a literary flair.

The plot involves a CIA mission against a terrorist organization in Africa.  But what exactly is the mission and what motivates it is the question each of the characters finds themselves asking.

Steinhauer offers the perspective of four characters: Paul, Sam, Nabil and Benjamin—two CIA agents, a Somali terrorist, and a Kenyan policeman.  It is a testament to his skill that such a short story can pack such a punch.

Paul the agent afraid to die, Sam out for revenge on multiple levels, Nabil the ambitious terrorist trying to see all the angles, and Benjamin in the middle trying to figure it out. As each character adds their perspective and details the tension and suspense ratchets up a notch. The reader get a little more clarity even as the characters scramble to understand the big picture. It all ends in flames.  Along the way Steinhauer muses on death, perspective and trust.

If you are looking for some great espionage fiction, and to hold you over until the next Milo Weaver novel comes out, this is an excellent and quick read that is also a great deal ($.99!). I highly recommend it.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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