The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

Posted on September 20, 2012 09:39 am

“In The Tourist, Olen Steinhauer has managed to give his characters and even the most reprehensible ones which is human side and a degree of warmth. It was beyond my imaginations how psychological ramifications could have had on a person, and I liked how author included the parts where Milo struggled with his trails in the wake of an assignment. Milo Weaver used was a “tourist” for the Central Intelligence Agency an undercover agent with no home, no identity but Milo has since retired from the field to become a middle-level manager at the CIA’s New York headquarters. Milo acquired a wife, a daughter, and a brownstone in Brooklyn, and tried to leave his old life of secrets and lies behind.

The cover page of The Tourist.

However, when the arrest of a long-sought-after assassin sets off an investigation into one of Milo’s oldest colleagues and exposes new layers of intrigue in his old cases, he has no choice but to go back undercover and find out who’s holding the strings once and for all.There was no doubt that Olen Steinhauer took on the reality of James Bond’s world in this novel that mainly focuses and involves lying.This tale opens on September 10, 2001, and a CIA operative using the name “Charles Alexander” has just botched a mission in The Netherlands. The pill-popping field agent did manage to stop an assassin known as “The Tiger” from killing a Dutch politician friendly to U.S. interests. However, he failed to take the bullet in his quest to end his “tourism,” the Central Intelligence Agency’s euphemism for working undercover in the field.In the aftermath, Alexander is summoned on an emergency mission to Slovenia, where he’s to chase a station chief named Frank Dawdle. Dawdle has disappeared with a fortune in cash meant to lure a Serbian war criminal out of hiding. In Slovenia, Alexander gets together with Angela Yates, an old friend and longtime fellow agent.

The book from a different angle

Together, they chase their quarry to Italy, where he meets up with a Russian billionaire named Roman Ugrimov. Alexander and Yates plan to grab Dawdle right there. But things go horribly wrong that September 11.A young girl falls to her death from Ugrimov’s apartment and Dawdle is killed in the arrest attempt, while Alexander is shot. Unaware of the horrific events about to unfold in New York City and Washington, D.C., that day, he knows only that he is finished as a tourist.Amid the day-to-day confusions of life as a spy, Weaver sometimes glimpses the Big Picture, as when his boss tells him: “We’ve been marking our territory like an imperial dog since the end of the last big war. Since 9/11, we no longer have to go about it sweetly. We can bomb and maim and torture to our heart’s content, because only the terrorists are willing to stand up to us, and their opinion doesn’t matter. The book’s sole flaw of any note is the method of The Tiger’s execution. While the onset of AIDS within six months of infection is not unheard of, as an assassination method, it’s not only crude, but it’s glaringly unreliable, since the virus is largely transmitted by the exchange of bodily fluids.

Back cover of The Tourist

However, within the context of Steinhauer’s sprawling narrative, this homicidal technique serves it’s purpose. The Tiger is sentenced to a slow death and sufficiently weakened by the time he makes any sort of real appearance in the story. I really enjoyed this novel and can comfortably say it is the best I’ve read this year. There was a moment when I thought that Milo had figured out who the “bad guy” was.I liked The Tourist  because it is not just some sort of James Bond kind of story where the protagonist sleeps with the girl and shoots a bunch of people and asks questions later. Spying is a nasty business that chews up and spits out the people involved in it. The Tourist shines a light on the mortal costs.

Contador Harrison