Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Nearest Exit: Olen Steinhauer

In The Tourist and The Nearest Exit, Olen Steinhauer tells the story of an organization within the CIA described as the Department of Tourism. These books are part of a trilogy, which ends with An American Spy.

The agents, or "Tourists," are operatives who travel from place to place with no home base and do whatever covert act is requested by their department, no questions asked. Clearly, such agents cannot have a family. They cannot have ties that will affect their ability to act as needed. Milo Weaver has been such an agent and has escaped the job and settled down to a desk job within the organization.

Milo was very good at his job as a Tourist, but he did not enjoy it. At the start of The Nearest Exit, Milo has returned to the job out of necessity.

I enjoy spy fiction in general for its themes of moral ambiguity in the spy's life and work and the inevitable issues of trust. Can a spy ever trust anyone, even those closest to him or her?

I enjoyed The Tourist specifically because of the battle Milo has within himself and with the organization to be able to spend time with his family and settle down to a relatively normal existence. As the second book began, I was disappointed at first because it seemed like the family element had been removed to make way for another thrilling adventure. There are no easy answers, but family, both his wife and child, and his parents, figure very prominently in this story, without impacting the pace of the main plot.

The story is complex and told very well. Milo feels like a very real person, and all the secondary players also have unique personalities that make the story the more convincing.

The trilogy is meant to be read in order, although it is possible you could enjoy this adventure without the background of the first book.

Although the stories are very different, there are some similarities between the Milo Weaver trilogy and the Bernard Samson series by Len Deighton. The Nearest Exit is more of a thriller, in my opinion, but both series have family as a major theme. In the Bernard Samson books, both Samson and his wife Fiona are intelligence officers for British Secret Intelligence Service, and they have two children. Samson's father was an intelligence officer. My review of the 5th and 6th books in the series is here. I have not yet read the final three books of the series.

See another review at Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan.

11 comments:

  1. Tracy - I think you put your finger on one of the best things about good spy fiction - the moral ambiguity. There really are no easy answers or purely 'good guys' or 'bad guys.' And if you add a solid fast-paced plot and family as a theme, I can see how you're sold. Thanks for an excellent review.

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    1. Thank you, Margot. In spy fiction, even the reader does not know who to trust.

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  2. TracyK: I found this book the bleakest of the triology. His assignment to start the book sent a shiver through me. Thanks for mentioning my blog.

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    1. Very true, Bill (about that assignment). I will get to the final book in the trilogy in the next month, I hope.

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  3. The plot sounds a little like 'The Expats' which I didn't enjoy that much. This sounds a lot better.

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    1. The first book in the trilogy hooked me in, I had read the next one. Some reviews said this one was better than the first, I liked both equally. But it did take me a while to get into this one. It was more confusing but I get confused easily in spy thrillers.

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  4. Really enjoyed this review TracyK, thanks - especially the comparison to the great Len Deighton books featuring Bernard Samson - shall seek these out!

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    1. Sergio, reading this reminded me... I have got to get back to that last Samson trilogy.

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  6. (Darn, accidentally deleted the comment.)
    Glad to discover this blog, cos I enjoyed reading mysteries and crime growing up, just that I haven't read much of them in recent years. Do you like Japanese crime fiction? And have you read the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall?

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    1. I have read very little Japanese crime fiction, but I plan to remedy that soon. My husband is a fan of Japanese crime fiction and has books that I can read. I have not read the Vish Puri series, although I may give it a try sometime. They may be too "cozy" for me, but the picture of life in India sounds interesting.

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