This Is How You Fall by Keith Dixon

Dixon brings a literary sensibility to the story even as he uses these familiar structures and blends in the noir and heist elements. It is the elegance with which he describes the thoughts and emotions of his characters and the way he maps out the charged relationships. The interplay between Jake, his true love Sally and her dangerous sister Kimber is full of the messy, complex and shifting and potentially dangerous emotions of real life.

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Steinhauer on le Carre

“The spymaster-as-hero is gone, replaced by the whistle-blower, the outsider who retains enough of his heart to be appalled by the slaughter of strays. In Cairo they’re the young trash collectors living on the city’s edge, but in Gibraltar they’re even more insignificant: one mother and her child, around whom the whole novel rotates, and for whom le Carre’s rage simmers. By the end of A Delicate Truth, you either share his anger at the injustices between its covers, or you don’t. If you do, then you’re one of le Carre’s people. If not, you’re one of Smiley’s. It’s up to you to decide which one is more worthy.” — Olen Steinhauer

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Olen Steinhauer on An American Spy and Post 9/11 Spy Fiction

Great timing for this weeks Coffee & Markets podcast. Pejman Yousefzadeh and I were  joined by one of my favorite authors, Olen Steinhauer.  We discussed his just released novel An American Spy, the post-Cold War and post 9/11 spy novel, and his career as a writer while living outside the United States.

Listen here.

An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer

With An American Spy Olen Steinhauer continues to explore both the mechanics of spy craft and the moral tension inherent in the trade using Milo Weaver as his lens. With this third volume in the series, Weaver is no longer a Tourist but can’t escape the gravity of the agency’s destruction.

What from so many angles seems like violence and betrayal fueled by mere revenge turns out to be each side attempting to turn constantly shifting events to their advantage. Steinhauer plays the story out giving the reader the perspective of a number of characters from Weaver to his former boss Alan Drummond to Chinese spymaster Xin Zhu. But just when you think you are starting to put the pieces together he shuffles the deck and you have re-evaluate your assumptions.

There is an underlying tension in espionage – and thus in spy fiction – in that at root it is the search for truth and yet in pursuing that elusive truth, truth itself – or at least honesty and veracity – are the first causality (cliché perhaps but accurate I think).  An American Spy mirrors this and in fact forces the reader to wrestle with it and “live” in this type of world. You find yourself constantly trying to understand the strategy and motivations of each side while guessing their next steps – in other words, thinking like a spy.  What also becomes clear is how the nature of the trade undermines trust and casts doubt on everything.

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100 Notable Books of 2010

Cover of "Angelology: A Novel"

Cover of Angelology: A Novel

Wow, I have read exactly two of the 100 Notable Books of 2010 as determined by the New York Times.

Here are the two I have read:

  • ANGELOLOGY. By Danielle Trussoni. (Viking, $27.95.) With a smitten art historian at her side, the young nun at the center of this rousing first novel is drawn into an ancient struggle against the Nephilim, hybrid offspring of humans and heavenly beings. (My review here)
  • THE NEAREST EXIT. By Olen Steinhauer. (Minotaur, $25.99.) The C.I.A. spy in this thriller is sick of his trade’s duplicity, amorality and rootlessness. (My review here)

I guess I am not reading what the cool kids are these days …