book review: The Tourist

tourist_steinhauerThe Tourist, by Olen Steinhauer

So I read two NY Times reviews of this book. The first, by Janet Maslin, raved about it. Best thing since sliced bread, basically. Based on that review, I bought the book. Then I read the other Times review, by Marilyn Stasio. She thought it was dreadful and confusing, and wrote more about how George Clooney bought the movie rights than about the book itself. Well. Okay then. So I was slightly dubious when I finally opened the book.

Note to self: in future, we’re going with Janet Maslin’s opinion.

Our hero Milo Weaver used to be a Tourist, a member of a covert CIA division so covert nobody outside the Department of Tourism knows about it. Now he’s retired from active duty, working a desk at the Department’s office in New York City.

Until one of the world’s deadliest assassins, a man known only as the Tiger, is arrested in Tennessee for beating his girlfriend. Milo, who has been chasing the Tiger from his desk for years, heads out to question him, not knowing that he is about to be drawn back into his former life as an operative—and with his life at stake.

So first of all, just to get this out of the way, if I ever read of a woman crossing her arms under, or over, or on top of her breasts ever again, I may strangle someone. (Really, Steinhauer? She couldn’t just cross them? We all know that’s where women keep their breasts, really we do.) But overall the writing is quite good, both in the beauty of the language (a terse, spy-thriller type of beauty) and its ability to pull the reader quickly through some complex plotting.

It would be doing this story an injustice to go into too much detail about this plot. Careening through the labyrinth Steinhauer has constructed is part of the excitement of this book. I had trouble keeping up sometimes, but then when the “solution” finally arrives, it seems so pure and simple and perfect.

But really, the best part of this book, the reason you should read it, is for the world-weary former op Steinhauer has created in Milo Weaver. Milo is a veteran of this spying nonsense. He knows all the tricks, and once his body has turned back “on” into operative mode, he goes through the motions mechanically. He knows all the bullshit, and can see through layers of it in an instant. And he doesn’t want to deal with it.

See, in between the brief Part I (September 10-11, 2001, in Slovenia) and Part II (July 4, 2007, Tennessee) Milo has acquired a wife and a stepdaughter and a small sense of normality. And he doesn’t want to lose it. He’s good at being  a Tourist, but it isn’t what he wants to do, but it’s what he has to do in order to keep his family safe, but being a Tourist is inherently unsafe, but… etc. And Steinhauer makes Milo’s problems and emotions real and intense. You feel him. You relate to him, even as he’s doing spy things that we normal citizens could never imagine. You want him to win, but first he needs to figure out what “win” means.

So yes. I enjoyed this book. I’m not going to call it one of the greatest books ever, but it is very good, and the character of Milo really makes it. So. You should read it. Yes.


3 thoughts on “book review: The Tourist

  1. You had me at “a covert CIA division so covert nobody outside the Department of Tourism knows about it”.

    But what I am really taking away from this is that the girl who barely registered the glowing blue penis is bothered by the mere mention of breasts when a lady crosses her arms?

  2. I am not bothered by the breasts! I’m all for breasts.

    I am bothered that Steinhauer felt it necessary to mention it every time a woman crossed her arms. Like, I wouldn’t have even noticed all the arm-crossing if it hadn’t been for the breasts involved.

    It was just a tic that annoyed me.

    The penis, on the other hand, was just kind of there. Hanging out. Being a penis. Yanno. Chilling.

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