The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer (♦♦♦)

Milo Weaver has a complex personal history that he has hidden from everyone—his immediate family and his employer, the CIA. Milo is the American son of a former KGB colonel and of an anarchist mother with serious terrorist tendencies. His loyalty could be challenged if the CIA were to know that, you see?

Despite his complicated upbringing Milo is a good tourist, famed even. When a friend’s loyalty is questioned—a former tourist who has risen in the Paris’ desk—Milo intercedes and gets hints of a case he has followed for years, but his friend is killed and Milo is under suspicion…Strong suspicion…

On the run and with no one to trust, Milo travels to Europe to follow his late friend’s findings, but he soon realizes he is not closer to the answers he seeks. Apparently someone on the inside is feeding him false intelligence, but with what purpose?

The Tourist, the first installment in a trilogy detailing the adventures and misfortunes of spy Milo Weaver, is the second novel I have read by Olen Steinhauer after All the Old Knives. I loved the latter; the former, not so much. If in All the Old Knives, Steinhauer displayed a heavy Le Carré influence down to the style of narrative, in The Tourist, his Le Carré influence is more subtle, mostly present in the tourists’ pragmatic views of life as spies, and the not so happy, yet realistic—given the events—ending.

The Tourist is full of lies, half-truths, secrets, and double-crosses that make its premise endearing; unfortunately, it is written in an uneven style, reason why I rated it three stars.  It begins with a sort of prologue set in September 2001. The plot picks up in July, 2007, and unfolds during that entire month. The first part becomes page-turning as we get a glimpse of the conspiracies Milo Weaver is trying to unravel. As part one concludes—the reader knowing what happened—, the second part begins with the reader newly in the dark as Milo is imprisoned for alleged crimes. The pace in the last part picks up again as Milo’s secret past is revealed, and the novel reaches a bittersweet ending, Le Carré’s style.

I have the feeling that with a tighter editing The Tourist would have been a very good, maybe a great spy novel, but the ups and downs of the pacing didn’t allow it. I don’t enjoy the bleak outlook of life that certain spy novels display; Le Carré is famous for his anti-climatic endings, and The Tourist follows that path as well. That is not to say that the novel is bleak overall, it is not; there are very funny moments between Milo and Einner, a fellow tourist, on account of the fabled “Black Book”, and Milo’s father’s views on Communism, of which he was an important part.

Despite The Tourist not being that solid a beginning, I thought that Milo Weaver was an intriguing enough character to make me want following his path in the secret world.

Comments

  1. I have read The Cairo Affair which I guess is later in the trilogy. I didn't know there was a trilogy when I read it but I liked it a lot. Also, it is in production to be a movie. Now I will have to go back and read this one. I didn't think the author should be compared to le Carre or anyone else, though I guess the marketers have to do that. I don't have a review on my blog; it was mid 2015 when you may recall I took a break from the blog until you convinced me to get back to it!

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    1. I think I'll be reading that one at some point, so it's good to know you liked it a lot. Actually, All the Old Knives does have a heavy Le Carré influence; if I hadn't known it had been written by Steinhauer I would have sworn it was Le Carré's.
      Yes, Judy, it pained me when you left. Yours was the only blog where I commented regularly. Does that make sense?

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    2. Yes it makes sense. And I appreciate your comments. You never miss a post. I have been feeling that ennui with the blog lately but then I think of you and Dorothy and others and decide we have a good online friendship. My solution for now is to write shorter reviews.

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  2. So it sounds like you liked All the Old Knives better. I think I will try it out on my husband from the library. He's big on spy / le Carre books. It seems Steinhauer is good.

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    1. I have three novels by Steinhauer on my Kindle. Since I have been trying books since the summer without any sticking, I gave The Tourist a try.
      Yes, I liked All the Old Knives better. I hope your husband loves it.

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  3. I read All the Old Knives after reading your review and liked it very much. Haven't read any other Steinhauer works, but I do have him on my reading list so maybe I'll get to this one some day, although after reading your review, I don't think I'll be in a hurry!

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    1. Don't be! In all fairness I think this is his debut novel, so that may be the reason for the uneven pacing.

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