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.