THE NEAREST EXIT by Olen Steinhauer

Book Quote:

“The first rule of Tourism is not to let it ruin you, because it can. Easily. The rootless existence, keeping simultaneous jobs straight in your head, showing no empathy when the job requires none, and especially that unstoppable forward movement…. It leaves no time for questions that do not directly relate to your survival.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (MAY 11, 2010)

The Nearest Exit, Olen Steinhauer’s follow-up to The Tourist, brings back Milo Weaver, a covert operative for the CIA. Miles is one of the elite spies known as Tourists because, like visitors to a foreign land, “they appeared and disappeared.” Tourists are “a secret sect of American agents that required none of the comforts of normal humans. No steady identity, no home, no moral center beyond the virtue of work.” Milo claims that he would rather spend quality time at home with his wife and daughter than traipse around the world robbing, maiming, and killing people. As espionage enthusiasts know, however, it is not that easy to get out of the game.

The narrative opens in Budapest in 2007. A young and not terribly successful journalist named Henry Gray is enjoying the company of his Hungarian girlfriend, Zsuzsanna Papp, when he receives a surprising letter from Thomas Grainger, Weaver’s former boss. The letter states, “The story I’m about to tell you is dangerous to know.” Since Henry is a dyed-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist, this communication feeds into his paranoia. He hopes that writing about the scandalous information contained in the letter will jump-start his foundering career.

And so the roller-coaster ride begins, as Steinhauer embarks on a tale of double agents, lies, intrigue, torture, and murder. Milo’s new boss orders to him to vet the statement of a potential defector, who claims that a mole working for the United States government is passing on vital secrets to China. Weaver endangers his already tenuous relationship with his wife, Tina, to ferret out the truth. He would like to close this chapter in his tortured life, but developments ensue that make an early exit strategy unlikely. Only the most tenacious individuals will be able to navigate the labyrinthine but carefully constructed plot. Those who persist will ultimately have the pleasure of watching each piece fall into place. By the time the last page is turned, it is clear that someone’s need for revenge has brought about untold chaos and horrific carnage.

Steinhauer’s characters are indelible. Milo has a soft spot for children, but he kills adults without remorse and commits countless illegal acts in order to survive and carry out his mission. His long-suffering spouse, for some inexplicable reason (love, perhaps?), has not yet divorced her unreliable and enigmatic husband. Cynicism is at the novel’s core. Most of the men and women who work for various intelligence bureaus have no clear ethical code; like Milo, they do whatever is expedient. In addition, a powerful American politician pulls strings behind the scenes to further his own agenda. In Germany, a massively overweight, alcoholic, and brilliant woman named Erika becomes entangled in an operation that could have long-range consequences for both Germany and the United States.

The Nearest Exit is dispiriting; the author implies that if you want to live in blissful ignorance, that is your choice. However, those who wish to face reality should accept the fact that in the real world, anything goes. Riots are fomented, governments are destabilized, women and children are slaughtered, and wars are waged, often for reasons that have nothing to do with national security. As Henry Gray says about his favorite subject, conspiracies, “If it can be imagined, then someone’s already tried it.” This book is filled with duplicity, violence, and innumerable twists and turns. It is a riveting tale about a man who would probably come in from the cold if only circumstances did not keep dragging him back to the addictive occupation that he claims to despise.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 123 readers
PUBLISHER: Minotaur Books; 1st edition (May 11, 2010)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Olen Steinhauer
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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May 11, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , ,  В· Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Thriller/Spy/Caper

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