THE TOURIST finds Olen Steinhauer following a bit of a different
path from that explored in his previous work, which he set in an
unnamed Communist bloc country in the mid-20th century. This is a
stand-alone title --- at least at this point --- that crisscrosses
the world and deals almost exclusively with American spy craft. The
plot is extremely complex, full of double-crosses,
misunderstandings and happenstance both unfortunate and otherwise.
Yet the author does such a magnificent job of maneuvering his
reader through it all that one almost doesn’t notice the
thicket all around; you can’t help but simultaneously admire
the craftsmanship as much as the storyline.
Milo Weaver is the primary protagonist of THE TOURIST, whose
title is the code name for a CIA agent who works more or less off
the books without a fixed home or name from a non-descript office
building in midtown Manhattan hidden in very plain view. The story
begins in 2001, with Weaver, known as Charles Alexander, in pursuit
of a long-trusted agent who has disappeared and apparently gone
rogue. The chase ends badly and fatefully. When we meet Lawrence
again in 2007, he is ostensibly no longer a field agent. Now known
as Milo Weaver, he appears reasonably content with a desk job and
Weaver is brought back into the field to complete his long
pursuit of a legendary assassin know only as The Tiger. The chase
reaches its end on a path that begins in Dallas and concludes
unexpectedly in a jail cell of a Tennessee hamlet. The Tiger,
himself the victim of an assassination attempt that is slowly (and
ingeniously) killing him, reveals to Weaver that the Tiger’s
next assignment was Weaver himself. Returning to New York, Weaver
is almost immediately given another assignment, even as he quietly
attempts to determine who might want him to be eliminated.
Angela Yates, a colleague of Weaver’s and his best friend,
is suspected of treason. Before he can clear her name, she is
poisoned --- and Weaver is the prime suspect. On the run from a
powerful, almost omnipotent pursuer, Weaver tries to find the real
murderer while determining who wants him gone and why. Although
he’s attempting to protect his family, his actions may indeed
have the opposite effect. The answers to Weaver’s quest, as
well as to his potential salvation, lie in his past, even as it
becomes more impossible for him to discern friend from enemy.
Steinhauer’s previous books have been underappreciated.
THE TOURIST may be the novel that garners him the attention he
properly deserves. While comparisons to masters past and present of
the espionage genre are inevitable (le Carre in particular) and
arguably appropriate, Steinhauer indisputably demonstrates that he
has mastered the terrain.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011