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The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

First published in 2010; reissued by Minotaur Books on November 7, 2019

The Tourist was first published in 2010. I try to read as many reputably published spy novels as I can find, but 2010 was a bad year in my reading life. Several years later, I read and enjoyed a more recent novel by Olen Steinhauer, but I didn’t make it back to the trilogy that began with The Tourist. Fortunately, Minotaur is reissuing trade paperback editions of the Tourist novels and has made them available for review, presumably to promote the publication of a fourth Tourist novel next year. I am grateful for the opportunity to catch up on some spy novels that I didn’t know I’d missed.

Charles Alexander is an American spy. More specifically, he is a Tourist, a CIA agent who travels abroad and makes deadly mischief (as opposed to the Travel Agents who stay in America to facilitate the Tourists). His real name is not Charles Alexander, but he’s used that name for two years.

Taking a break from pondering suicide, Charles goes to Slovenia in search of a station chief who disappeared with a pile of money. The chief was supposed to give the pile to an informant in exchange for the location of a Bosnian war criminal whose capture would put a feather in the American cap. Charles’ contact, who works for the chief, is Angela Yates. Charles quickly finds evidence suggesting that the station chief, despite his long and loyal service, is both a thief and a murderer. After tracking the station chief to Venice, events take a wrong and violent turn, convincing Charles it is time to change his life.

Six years later, Charles is Milo Weaver, a man with a wife and daughter. He has promised to stay home as much as he can. Milo has been tracking an assassin known as The Tiger, who crossed his path in Venice. An encounter with The Tiger takes a strange turn that causes Milo to be suspected of a crime.

Soon after that meeting, Milo travels to Paris to set up Angela Yates, who might or might not be passing secrets to the Chinese. The plot threads involving Yates, the Chinese, the Tiger, and the Tiger’s client quickly entangle. After some nicely written action scenes, Milo finds discovers that lies he told about his past are disrupting his career and marriage. If help is to arrive, it will come from an unexpected source. By the end of the novel, Milo is something of a mess.

Despite being the opening novel of a trilogy, the story is self-contained. The Tourist combines thoughtful character development with a credible, intriguing plot. The novel moves briskly, not because it is action-filled (although it has some adrenalin-boosting scenes), but because the story and characters are so interesting that the reader is motivated to learn what happens next. In fact, The Tourist motivated me to move on to the second novel of the trilogy, which I will do with pleasure.


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