(Reviewed by Mary Whipple MAR 27, 2009)
“Angela has said, “There is no other side anymore,” but there was. The other side was multifaceted: Russian mafias, Chinese industrialization, loose nukes, and even the vocal Muslims camped in Afghanistan who were trying to pry Washington’s fingers off the oil-soaked Middle East. As Grainger would put it, anyone who could not be embraced or absorbed by the empire was anathema and had to be dealt with, like barbarians at the gate.”
In the post-Cold War days immediately prior to 9/11, Milo Weaver, a “tourist” for the CIA—an agent without a home base—dealt with issues like finding war criminals, tracing money stashes in the mountains outside Sarajevo, watching émigré Russians living in extravagant style abroad, and looking for three million dollars thought to have been stolen by Frank Dawdle, the CIA station chief in Slovenia. Milo, a failed suicide addicted to Dexedrine, has seen too much violence and crime. Watching a Russian pedophile throw a thirteen-year-old girl off a balcony in Venice, seeing an influential CIA man betray his country, and being shot and nearly killed when that agent is murdered by another “tourist,” has just about done him in.
Six years later, Milo is happily married to a woman whose life he saved, with a six year-old stepdaughter who adores him. Though he is no longer a “tourist,” he is still working for the CIA, investigating “The Tiger,” one of the most vicious killers in the world, an equal-opportunity assassin who has killed, among others, both an influential cleric in the Sudan and the French foreign minister. No one knows for whom he works. When Milo tracks him down, he learns that the Tiger has actually planned their meeting, deliberately leaving a trail for him because he wants to meet him. Milo finds the Tiger in a rural Tennessee jail, nearly dead. The Tiger has both information and a mission for Milo—to find and kill the man who has been Tiger’s boss, the one who has commissioned all his international killings—and ultimately, the man who has arranged for the Tiger’s own death.
The evolving action reveals much about the internecine squabbles within the CIA, between the CIA and the recently established Homeland Security Department, and between Congressmen and both organizations. The number of betrayals on a global scale is astonishing—high level agents whose agendas are more personal than national, agents who work as double agents, agents who sell out each other within the department, and trained agents who leave their organizations to assume new identities and freelance on a global scale—for a fee. Homeland Security and the CIA distrust each other, and key information is not shared. Congressmen sometimes run their own investigations. No one can be trusted.
As the novel moves back and forth in time, the reader must constantly consider several basic issues: Who is the Tiger and what motivates him? Who is Milo and what motivates him? And, finally, is the information that the author provides the reader about these and other characters reliable, or is the author himself acting as a “double agent”? The reader must constantly act as a “tourist” here, accumulating hints about some of the main characters but not knowing much definite information about Milo and other main characters until well into the novel. While this involves the reader in the action and increases the suspense, the lack of certainty about some of the main characters does keep some characters, especially Milo, at arm’s length throughout the action. The numerous aliases for important characters also leads to occasional confusion.
Still, the novel is exciting as it moves from New York to Slovenia, Venice, Russia, the Sudan, and even Disney World, and involves agents, double agents, and men with personal agendas from several countries. From Sept. 10, 2001 to September 11, 2007, Milo is constantly in danger, as attested to by the novel’s high body count (to which Milo unflinchingly contributes when necessary). Steinhauer does a capable job of uniting the many disparate threads involving several countries and agencies and keeping the suspense high in this intricately constructed spy thriller.
- Amazon readers rating: from 273 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Cold War Eastern Europe Series:
- The Bridge of Sighs (2003)
- The Confession (2004)
- 36 Yalta Boulevard (aka The Vienna Assignment) (2005)
- Liberation Movements (aka The Istanbul Variations) (2006)
- Victory Square (2007)
Milo Weaver trilogy:
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- Official website for Olen Steinhauer
- Wikipedia page for Olen Steinhauer
- Writer interviews with Olen Steinhauer (2008)
- Bookbrowse interview with Olen Steinhauer (2009)
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Nearest Exit
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About the Author:
Olen Steinhauer was born in Maryland and grew up in Virginia. He attended university at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania and the University of Texas, Austin. He received an MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College in Boston.
After graduation, Steinhauer received a yearlong Fulbright grant to write a novel in Romania, about their 1989 revolution. It was called Tzara's Monocle, and when he moved to New York City afterward, he used that manuscript to secure a literary agent. However, it was with another book, the historical mystery set in Eastern Europe, The Bridge of Sighs, that Steinhauer first found publication.
His latest novel, The Tourist, published in 2009, has received positive reviews and is being developed for a film by George Clooney.
He has lived in Budapest, Hungary with his wife and daughter since 2003.