Friday, June 25, 2010

Olen Steinhauer, THE NEAREST EXIT

This is a great summer for espionage. Olen Steinhauer's second in his "Tourist" series, THE NEAREST EXIT, was so satisfying that the images and characters clung to me for two or three days -- I kept feeling that I wanted to be back "in" the book.

The "Tourist" series answers the awful question of global information: Who will spy on the spies? It appears that Milo Weaver may be involved -- but is he a journalist, a killer-for-hire, an employee of The Company? Hungary's complex levels of politics and crime are the perfect field for Milo's reappearance.

As he struggles to discover just what test hurdles he's being pushed over (and to make some personal choices about how much evil he can stand to collaborate with), Milo Weaver is also in the midst of trying to regain his marriage and daughter. Does espionage ruin his chances of being a loving, honest husband and father? Or does having a daughter ruin him as a chaos-working obedient servant of the hidden?

Each twist of this volume provokes a new view for Milo, a new set of questions, and more danger and risk. A wicked sense of humor crops up often, too, without distracting (thank goodness!) from the intense movement of the plot and the grimness of the situations.

You're sure to see comparisons of Steinhauer with Alan Furst, because of the Hungarian setting here -- but this is an entirely different flavor of writing, fresh, modern, clearly intended to savor the now (as opposed to Furst's deliberate and delightful decision to write as if speaking from the 1930s and 1940s). The pace is sharp and quick enough to distract all but the most careful reader from the threads that Milo will later realize have significance. Believable, vivid, and first-rate entertainment, THE NEAREST EXIT is one of my favorites already.

Oh, and that title? Check the epigraph to the book, which quotes the usual airplane advice about looking for the closest emergency exit and ends, "Please note that, in some cases, the nearest exit may be behind you."


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