Writing about Reading: An American Spy

July 27, 2012 § 7 Comments

Psst. Hey you. Yeah, you. You want to read a flawless book? Go to your local bookseller and approach the counter. The code phrase is “Do you have Olen Steinhauer’s An American Spy?” The bookseller—if he or she is one of ours—will hand you a copy of the book. Pay for it, take it home, lock your door, and read it.

Trust me, you won’t want to put it down until you’ve finished.

An American Spy is the third book in Steinhauer’s brilliant Tourist trilogy. The first book is The Tourist, and then The Nearest Exit. Both are absolutely gripping, flawless novels, and An American Spy is a fitting third installment. I think it may be the last book, but I kind of hope not; the trilogy is so good, I don’t want it to end.

An American Spy picks up a few months after the events of Nearest Exit. Xin Zhu, the head of the Chinese spy agency is feeling the heat from his unsanctioned actions against the CIA, and an old rival in the agency is quickly moving to have Zhu ousted. Zhu must act quickly if he is to protect not only his job, but his life and the life of his young wife.

Back in the USA, Milo Weaver is trying to settle down to a post-CIA life with his family. But when his old boss goes rogue and starts using one of Milo’s old work aliases, Milo is drawn back in against his will.

Like the previous two novels, An American Spy is a rollercoaster ride full of twists and turns. Steinhauer creates his world so realistically that you want to believe he was a spy in a former life. He mixes just enough actual history in with the narrative that it rings remarkably true, and the actions his spies take are so unlike anything Hollywood has created that they seem very real. There are no car chases, no massive explosions, and no gadgets–just good ol’ spycraft, and it is excellently written. The plot twists and turns a lot, and you never see what’s coming (well, almost never), and yet everything that happens comes logically from the preceding events.

One of the joys in life for me is recommending excellent books, and Steinhauer’s trilogy makes up three books I will always recommend. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying them. I certainly did, and I look forward to more of Steinhauer’s work with gusto.

UPDATE: The kind folks at Macmillan Audio offered to allow me to share an excerpt from the audiobook with you. Click here to give it a listen.



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