Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

published 2009





He only lasted an hour at Platinum Glam Club, a throbbing pulse of slick nightclub on the Quai du Seujet, facing the Rhône where it flowed from Lake Geneva. Fifteen minutes in, he’d gone deaf from the techno music and the rich Swiss youth packed in around him, screaming to be heard. Lights flashed, lasers scribbled on the walls, and he soon lost track of Einner in the crowd that led to the dance floor. His entry fee entitled him to a free drink , but it was too much work trying to fight his way to the bar, where toned young men in spiky bleached hairdos flipped bottles to the agonizing rhythm of the music, as delivered by a certain DJ Jazzy Schwartz. He backed away, knocking into pretty girls with tall, multicolored drinks and short skirts who pretended he wasn’t there, and tried to make it to the couches that lined the room. By the time he reached them, though, they were filled. He had no idea why he was here, so he worked his way to the entrance again.




observations: Olen Steinhauer hit my radar via the awesome combination of Col (Col’s Criminal Library) and TracyK (Bitter Tea and Mystery): once they had both recommended him I knew I had to read him, but I cannot remember why I picked on this particular book to start with – maybe it was cheap that day on Kindle? It's not his most recent, and perhaps not the one either of them specially recommended – though Tracy reviewed it enthusiastically here.

Anyway here’s an author I hadn’t heard of at all, and one who is very good – his writing style is, I would say, superior to that in many other genre books. This was a tricksy, winding story with a lot of elements to keep straight and a lot of guessing and second-guessing to do. Our hero Milo was a Tourist - a secret CIA operative doing very special kind of jobs. After a major disaster, he moves to a more conventional job with the organization, but the past will call him back. Yes, that is the setup to an awful lot of spy thrillers, but this one did the job particularly well, and was a very gripping read.

Two problems – a woman who is 8-9 months pregnant would not be able to fly from the USA to Venice.

And: A man who is being watched and followed (actually by two different people, with different motives) buys some takeout. He is carrying the bag home, but stops at a rubbish bin, takes out one box of food from the bag, and ditches it. Is this the worst piece of tradecraft ever? How does that work – you do something that no-one ever does in real life, and only one of your suspicious professional watchers guesses that there’s a message in the box? I am (you will be surprised to hear) not a spy, but I can think of 8 different and better casual actions that might not arouse suspicions…

However the reason I am being so fussy is really because this is such a good book otherwise, I found the odd thing tripped me up just because most of it was so good. I am delighted to see Olen Steinhauer has written a lot of books, and I look forward to working my way through them.

The picture of a Swiss nightclub is from Wikimedia Commons.

20 comments:

  1. Moira, so glad he ticked a lot of boxes for you. I haven't yet managed to get to The Tourist yet, though I am looking forward to it. I'll enjoy comparing notes as we both work through his books!
    Thanks for the mention!

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    1. Definitely one I was glad to have discovered, so thanks to you and Tracy. Remind me which one(s) you've read, so I know what to go for next?

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    2. Looking back through my list, I've read THE INSTANBUL VARIATIONS and VICTORY SQUARE back in July and August, 2011. (Pre-blogging days) I then neglected him until catching THE CAIRO AFFAIR on Net Galley. I'm not totally sure if there is a chronology to his earlier work and whether it is important to read them in order. I think some characters reappear, though again I haven't dug too much.

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    3. I'll take a look at those, thanks.

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  2. Moira, I haven't read a good spy novel involving the CIA in a long time, and this one sounds really good. Besides, I'm not familiar with Olen Steinhauer's work, so it'd be nice to get to know the writer a little better. And then, of course, you have the intrepid duo of Tracy and Col who read, review, and recommend such fine books that I have to pull my shirt up and hide my face.

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    1. We just have to bow our heads to the superior Tracy and Col, Prashant! If you like CIA books then you will like this one, so follow your instructions from the intrepid C and T combination and get hold of it...

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  3. Moira - I agree with you about the credibility thing, I must say. But that aside, I like the way he writes, just from the bit you've shared. And sometimes, when a spy story is a good one, you're willing to forgive a few of those 'Really?' moments. The setting sounds nicely done too.

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    1. This is a real, classic, old-school spy thriller, and for that I'm willing to forgive a few mis-steps, as you say.

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  4. Moira: I have read the whole trilogy involving Milo. I enjoyed them. They are not as bleak as Le Carre but are definitely not Hollywood. I would read them in order to avoid knowing what happened earlier in the series as he builds upon themes.

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    1. Good advice, thanks Bill. I'm looking forward to reading more.

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  5. Thanks for linking to my review. I did love this book, and his earlier series set in postwar Eastern Europe.

    One of Olen Steinhauer's books might be on my list of "ten books that have affected me over the years" if I could come up with such a list. Which I can't. Can't do it with movies either. That has always been a problem for me.

    Getting back to Steinhauer and this book, I am glad you liked it (with reservations) and hope you try more. One of my favorite authors.

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    1. Thank you for the recommendation, I'm so glad to have discovered a new author, even if he's going to add to the TBR pile. I will try to read the rest of this trilogy, but which of his other books should I go for then?

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    2. I haven't read the third in this trilogy yet: The American Spy. My favorite books of his are the Eastern European series -- also called the Emil Brod series -- that starts with The Bridge of Sighs. I am definitely going to make time to re-read those some day.

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    3. As soon as my embargo lifts I will get something else by him.

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  6. I can't remember reading spy thrillers, although I remember my father liked Le Carre's.

    I was thinking of reading The Cairo Affair as I'd read good reviews of it, and I can't start new series ... too many books on that darn TBR list. And I wanted to read a book set in Cairo.

    What do readers think of that book?

    Maybe I'll get to it in 2016, but by then there will be more books to read. Maybe I'll wait for the movie of The Cairo Affair!

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    1. The books just pile up in front of us, don't they Kathy? Are really planning your reading ahead to 2016? I'm impressed! I like the sound of the Cairo Affair too.

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  7. Reproducing like rabbits are they! Boxes appear, books appear. Lovely bloggers send me books. Friends bring them over. And then there's the library.

    It's not that I'm planning ahead to 2016. It's that I have so many I want to read, and the list is humongous that there's no way I'll read what I want to next year, so I have to think further ahead.

    Also, I want to try Chris Pavone's The ExPats and The Accident, have seen good reviews. Is espionage involved in these? A few bloggers liked both. (Yikes!)
    (That was the sound of a few book stacks crashing down under the weight.)

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    1. I have the Pavone Expats on my Kindle, it's been there a while, must get to it soon. I am having a real concerted effort at the moment to clear some TBR: I am being ruthless. Ish. Most of the time....

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  8. I'm not buying books. I'm in a frugal mode. But they're appearing anyway!

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