Dom's Reviews

Author reviews by Wanaka Librarian Dominic Stayne

This month Dom reviews Olen Steinhauer, a novelist and poet born in the US but now living in Hungary.  

His first novel, The Bridge of Sighs, the start of a five-book sequence chronicling Cold War Eastern Europe was nominated for five awards.  Since then Steinhauer has earned critical acclaim and several nominations for his writing.  

I have greatly enjoyed reading the books by Olen Steinhauer over the last few years. Within the genre “spy fiction” I feel I have finally found an author whose books are worthy of comparison to those of John Le Carre. Le Carre perfected the spy novel, taking it from the enjoyable fancies of Ian Flemming and grounding it within the realities of the Cold War. There have been many imitators since, but none have come close, to my mind, in using the situation of espionage so effectively to explore what that might do to the characters engaged in spying and betrayal, and to those who care for them.

Olen Steinhauer has moved the genre to post-9/11, and into a world which has changed. Within this setting he uses the setting of espionage and counter espionage to create complex characters with torn loyalties. His trilogy of books featuring Milo Weaver (The Tourist, The Nearest Exit, and An American Spy) I think are remarkable, showing us a man who is both CIA assassin and a family man at home with wife and daughter, sitting down to dinner, or holidaying at Disney World.

I’m now halfway through The Cairo Affair, set in Egypt post Arab Spring. As with his previous books this is not a novel to race through, it is best read slowly and savoured, enjoying the mood and the atmosphere, and wondering at how the protagonists can function in a world of lies and betrayal.  And there’s a lot in these books. When I realised the second Milo Weaver book had come out, I could hardly credit all that had come before had been in just one book – I had to reread The Tourist. And a confession – I’ve only just become aware of the third Milo Weaver instalment. How the hell did the author fit so much into two books?

I’ve just discovered a new book by Olen Steinhauer, All The Old Knives (2015), just released and soon to arrive in the library.  I’ve placed it on hold -what a marvellous service the QLDC libraries offer….

- Dominic Stayne

Olen Steinhauer Cairo Affair   Olen Steinhauer The Tourist