The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer

I am a big fan of Steinhauer and was really looking forward to this second book in The Tourist series The Nearest Exit. I usually read them in ARC format before they are released but I have been so busy that I actually bought this one weeks after it had been released.

Booklist had a nice recap/review

Since the events of The Tourist (2009), Milo Weaver has served time in prison, worked in administration, and tried to reconnect with his wife and daughter. But talk therapy is hard when you’re trained to keep secrets. When asked to return to the field, he agrees, although, because of his disgust with the Department of Tourism (a black-ops branch of the CIA), he plans to feed information to his father, Yevgeny Primakov, the “secret ear” of the UN. But his handlers don’t trust him, either, giving him a series of vetting assignments that culminates in an impossible loyalty test: the abduction and murder of a 15-year-old girl. Ironically, Weaver is then tasked with finding a security breach that threatens the very existence of Tourism—and the lives of the Tourists. Seeing his own brutal compatriots as humans, he does his best to save the thing he despises, a conundrum that pretty much sums up the shades of gray that paint this modern-day espionage masterpiece.
The Tourist was impressive, proving that Steinhauer had the ability to leap from the historical setting of his excellent Eastern European quintet to a vividly imagined contemporary landscape. But this is even better, a dazzling, dizzyingly complex world of clandestine warfare that is complicated further by the affairs of the heart. Steinhauer never forgets the human lives at stake, and that, perhaps, is the now-older Weaver’s flaw: he is too human, too attached, to be the perfect spy. His failure to save the girl he was told to kill threads the whole book like barbed wire.

My quick take? It was great – I expected nothing less from Olen of course! –  an intelligent and literary thriller. This one seemed even more focused on the psychological and emotional (Milo’s marriage, what it means to be a Tourist, etc.) even as it explored the complicated world of Post Cold War espionage and foreign affairs.   Just as you think you have a handle on the plot there is a twist at the end that keeps you guessing.  There is a depth to the emotional and moral element however, that gives the spy thriller aspect added heft.  I think I might need to re-read this one to fully appreciate it.

So if you are looking for something to read this summer and for some bizzare reason haven’t yet read Steinhauer I suggest you rectify that as soon as possible.

The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer now in paperback

If for some odd reason you are reading this blog and have not yet read Olen Steinhauer’s The Tourist please rectify that ASAP.

This may seem a tad pushy but, trust me, I am doing you a favor.

The paperback is out today (and you can buy an ebook as well) so you really have no excuse at this point.

As I said in my review:

What makes Steinhauer different from so many writers of international thrillers is his ability to write a suspenseful espionage plot and yet still have elements of the more literary aspect of novels.  The writing is tight and even graceful at times.  The characters are not cardboard cutouts and Steinhauer delves into their psychological make up and personality for more than just plot plausibility.

And Olen has provided some hand picked music to go with the release. So head over there and get your The Tourist iMix

So stop by your local bookstore or click on the link above and read The Tourist so you are ready when  The Nearest Exit comes out in May.

Booklist review of The Nearest Exit below.

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The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer now in paperback

If for some odd reason you are reading this blog and have not yet read Olen Steinhauer’s The Tourist please rectify that ASAP.

This may seem a tad pushy but, trust me, I am doing you a favor.

The paperback is out today (and you can buy an ebook as well) so you really have no excuse at this point.

As I said in my review:

What makes Steinhauer different from so many writers of international thrillers is his ability to write a suspenseful espionage plot and yet still have elements of the more literary aspect of novels.  The writing is tight and even graceful at times.  The characters are not cardboard cutouts and Steinhauer delves into their psychological make up and personality for more than just plot plausibility.

And Olen has provided some hand picked music to go with the release. So head over there and get your The Tourist iMix

So stop by your local bookstore or click on the link above and read The Tourist so you are ready when  The Nearest Exit comes out in May.

Booklist review of The Nearest Exit below.

Continue reading

What do you expect out of your thrillers?

I expressed some opinions about this on Twitter, but thought I would make it a full blown post of its own.

Marilyn Stasio reviews Olen Steinhauer’s [amazon-product region=”us” text=”The Tourist” type=”text”]0312369727[/amazon-product] in the NYTBR.  She seems to struggle with it because it lacks the sort of straightforward plot you would expect of a international thriller.  After praising the central character Milo Weaver she drops in her frustrations:

The only drawback to this warm close-up of the protagonist is that it skews the novel, rendering it more of a character study than a full-bodied espionage novel. There’s plenty of plot, but it’s messy rather than complex; and while the cast is thickly populated with career spooks from France, Russia, China, Sudan and components of the former Yugoslavia, few of them develop into worthy adversaries, and their agendas are so murky that we’re not particularly anxious to get back to them.

I think this is true to a certain degree but besides the point.  I don’t think Steinhauer was attempting to write am espionage novel in the traditional sense.  I have been arguing instead is that he is attempting to use elements of the thriller and espionage genre and yet write more literary novels.

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The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

Cover of "The Tourist"
Cover of The Tourist

I will be honest.  I am an Olen Steinhauer fan. Have been since I picked up his first book, The Bridge of Sighs, some time ago (and started reading his blog as well).  His crime series set in an unnamed Eastern European country during the Cold War was in my sweet spot as a former grad student with a focus on the Cold War: great writing, interesting characters, an espionage/crime thriller with the Iron Curtain as a backdrop, what’s not to like?

But Steinhauer has put that series to bed and has started a new direction or at least a new series with The Tourist.

Here is the plot as outlined by the publisher:

Milo Weaver used to be a “tourist” for the CIA – an undercover agent with no home, no identity – but he’s since retired from the field to become a middle-level manager at the CIA’s New York headquarters. He’s acquired a wife, a daughter, and a brownstone in Brooklyn, and he’s tried to leave his old life of secrets and lies behind. However, when the arrest of a long-sought-after assassin sets off an investigation into one of Milo’s oldest colleagues and exposes new layers of intrigue in his old cases, he has no choice but to go back undercover and find out who’s holding the strings once and for all.

This book carried risk and reward. New is exciting but what happens when the author leaves a much loved series behind and starts a new project? Sure, it is still what I like to call a literary thriller, but what if Steinhauer stumbled on his first stand alone?  Made me a little nervous, I will admit.

Another element of pressure, and an opportunity to stumble, was provided by the pre-publication publicity – which has been known to trip me up in the past.  The publicity  put Steinhauer in the pantheon of great spy thriller writers like Le Carre, Deighton, Graham Green, etc. Not an easy label to live up to.

Well, as I noted earlier, I am happy to report that Steinhauer didn’t stumble but merely brought his talents to a different task. I am in no position to label him the next Le Carre etc. but he certainly has tapped into the same vein and talents that kept me reading these type of authors.

The Tourist is a great and thought provoking read for anyone who enjoys the thriller aspects of the espionage genre but prefers better – and more philosophical – writing than your average airport pick up.

More below.

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