Fiction, Spies

Novel: The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

May 3, 2011

On the strength of his volume-closing novella “You Know What’s Going On” from Agents of Treachery, I moved on to Olen Steinhauer’s The Tourist (2009), an invigorating contemporary spy thriller.  (And not to be mistaken for the recent Jolie-Depp film, by the way.)  The dense, twisty plot follows Milo Weaver, a “Tourist” for the CIA:  a ghost operative roaming the world performing black ops tasks for shifty overseers.  Several years after a rough mission in Vienna ends his field career and introduces him to his wife Tina, Weaver has settled into an administrative job out of the secret Department of Tourism’s New York office.  But circumstances conspire to send him out into the field again:  a high profile assassin known only as “the Tiger” shows up in the States, and Weaver’s interview stirs up all sorts of questions, triggering a CIA investigation of his friend and colleague Angela Yates.  Journeying all across Europe and the US,  Weaver is soon targeted for elimination by a powerful conspiracy, and has to run a complex gambit on two rival agencies in order to save himself and his family.

While The Tourist didn’t impress me quite as strongly as “You Know What’s Going On,” overall I found it brisk wheelhouse reading for me, solid spy fiction with a vivid, cinematic feel to it.  While the prose style is simple, the plot is quite convoluted, and particularly in the early stages it’s difficult to piece together what’s happening.  But disentangling all the plot threads is part of the fun, and a full picture does emerge eventually, satisfying without being overly neat.  Steinhauer has six other novels — including a five-volume chronicle of Cold War Europe that looks particularly interesting — and while so far I wouldn’t rank him quite as highly as John Le Carré or Alan Furst, I can totally understand why he’d be mentioned in the same breath.  Definitely looking forward to scooping up the rest of his catalogue.

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