When this month started I wasn’t real bullish on the continued existence of this blog. But then the planet was hit with a pandemic, my kids schools were closed and I am working from home. I started musing on the fact that a lot of people might suddenly have more time on their hands and want to know about good books to read. In a making lemonade sort of way I thought maybe I could provide a service with something I’m calling #StayAtHomeAndRead. Unfortunately, as I was contemplating restarting this moribund blog my basement flooded which grabbed my attention for a few days.
But as luck would have it, what was schedule to be released today but a new book by one of my favorite authors. So I decided to start the series with The Last Tourist by friend of the blog Olen Steinhauer.
In Olen Steinhauer’s bestseller An American Spy, reluctant CIA agent Milo Weaver thought he had finally put “Tourists”—CIA-trained assassins—to bed.
A decade later, Milo is hiding out in Western Sahara when a young CIA analyst arrives to question him about a series of suspicious deaths and terrorist chatter linked to him.
Their conversation is soon interrupted by a new breed of Tourists intent on killing them both, forcing them to run.
As he tells his story, Milo is joined by colleagues and enemies from his long history in the world of intelligence, and the young analyst wonders what to believe. He wonders, too, if he’ll survive this encounter.
Perhaps I should get the disclosures out of the way. I’ve been a fan of Olen Steinhauer since I stumbled upon Bridge of Sighs in 2005. I have interviewed him a couple of times, and have even started watching the TV show he created and produces, Berlin Station (by purchasing it on Amazon because I didn’t have Epix, I might add). Unlike with The Middleman, from which the above disclosure is taken, this time I didn’t forget to post a review on pub day. So I got that goin for me.
Short version: Classic Steinhauer! Intelligent espionage fiction with twist and turns and a global conspiracy. Old characters and new. Makes me want to go back and re-read the whole series with Milo Weaver. And delete a bunch of apps off my phone…
I just want to point out that I dashed off the above on Goodreads and only today found out that Bookpage basically said the same thing:
…once you read this one, you will want to go back and read the others, so just get them all and block out a long weekend to enjoy some of the finest modern spy thrillers.
Sightly longer version: Steinhauer offers the complexity and depth of more literary writers but within the espionage genre. He builds complex and multifaceted characters and shows you the world through their eyes. He evocatively describes people and places all over the world in ways that make you think he spends all of his time traveling and researching these things in person; he puts you there with words.
Here is what I wrote about An American Spy:
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.
That is true of The Last Tourist except with a twist. What if multinational corporations started acting like nation states? So now you have the politics and espionage involved since time began but an added complication of powerful, wealthy and technologically cutting-edge worldwide companies playing a role.
The engine of Steinhauer’s work is not action, although there are bursts of that too, but the underlying question of motives and strategy; who is doing what and why? And this includes Milo himself; what is he doing and why. But you get to try and understand the world from a variety of perspectives: the perhaps naive CIA analyst sent to find Milo; Milo’s own sister pulled into operations to save her brother’s life; the cold blooded, usually, freelance killer being recruited by a variety of sides; the international diplomats playing The Game; etc. And not just the mechanical sort of motivations but the worldview and morals of the characters; what truly means something to them when everything is on the line.
Just when you think you have grab the thread, something twists or turns and you are back to questioning what you thought you knew. Which is kind the point.
As I said, I am biased. I am a fan of Steinhauer and loved thoroughly enjoyed The Last Tourist but others did too:
What follows is a byzantine tale of alliances formed and discarded, double crosses tripled and quadrupled, in which “corporations are the new nation-states,” with their own armies. Like John le Carré’s Agent Running in the Field (2019), Steinhauer pits a disenchanted agent, an ideologue no more, against the new evil empire, multinational corporations for whom “money knows no borders.” It’s not a fair fight, but Milo is a hell of a counterpuncher, and we love rooting for him.
No dummies survive in this twisty shadow realm, and Milo’s wits keep him alive as the complex, layered plot reaches a shrewd, nuanced climax at the World Economic Forum, leaving the reader with the hope that global elites can’t rig the rules of every game. The author does a masterly job of evoking dingy desert cities and the rarified air of Davos, Switzerland. Steinhauer reinforces his position at the top of the espionage genre.
So if you are looking something to read in these difficult times and enjoy intelligent fiction, check out the The Last Tourist. And if you haven’t already, for pete’s sake, go back and read the back catalog…