Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review: The Tourist, by Olen Steinhauer

The promotional material compares this book to "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" by John le Carre, "The Human Factor" by Graham Greene, and "Berlin Game" by Len Deighton. I haven't read any of those, and I've only heard of the first one.

"The Tourist" is written in four sections, each of which starts with its own chapter numbering system. Section one is "The End of Tourism" which takes place on September 10-11, 2001. Section two is "Problems of the International Tourist Trade" and takes place July 4-19, 2007. Section three is "Tourism is Storytelling" and takes place July 25-30, 2007. Section four brings the story full circle, "The Beginning of Tourism" which takes place September 10-11, 2007.

Section one is the story of how main character Milo stops being a CIA black-ops agent and becomes something of a family man. Section two is the Jason-Bourne-like rush to find evidence that will clear Milo's long-time friend of being a traitor and then also clear himself of being a murderer. Section three is the interrogation and reveal of the behind-the-scenes stuff that Milo was trying to uncover. Section four finds Milo losing his family due to all the lies, and returning to black ops work. In the meantime, there are the usual plotlines about internal powerplays, interagency non-cooperation, and international meddling. The reason behind all the ploys turns out to be simple, and is mentioned quite casually: China wants to control Africa's oil, and the U.S. want to interfere in that by any means possible; and various players at the CIA and Homeland Security are struggling to gain more personal power.

Much of the book moves at a good pace, but at the end the rehashing of events during the interrogation gets boring. The layers upon layers of lies, intrigue and politics keep the plot complex but aren't necessarily fresh or inventive. Other reviewers have noted that this story may be part of trilogy, but I don't see Milo having any story left in him. He's been used up and now even his family has been taken away, which was all he was living for. Milo has killed the man who killed his friend, cleared her reputation and his own, and exposed the internal power plays. Case closed.

1 comment:

Marmee of Bear Meadow said...

I'm amazed by folks like you who can not only read complex books but also review them in detail. Good job. I read "Spy Who Came In From the Cold" years ago; all I can remember is that the ending was too bleak for me.