Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Listened: "American Spy" by Olen Steinhauer

Listened: American Spy by Olen Steinhauer, 2012, Overdrive download.

I think Steinhauer puts these stories together very well.  He changes perspective for each part of the story, plants seeds and information ahead of time, and wraps things together.  Important characters disappear or die, are found to be lying or concealing information, and true motives are revealed.  The spies speak of having layers of cover.  Steinhauer uses that to the reader's advantage by peeling away those layers and keeps the story moving.  Some spoilers follow.

Milo Weaver is still unemployed after leaving the CIA and his most recent CIA boss is also unemployed after taking the blame for 33 dead agents.  The Boss (I cannot recall his name) is itching for revenge against the Chinese spymaster who engineered the murders of those 33 agents.  Boss is trying to talk Milo into helping.  Milo wants nothing to do with it.

Things happen.  Integral characters interact.  Motives are mysterious.  Violence is vicious.  Relationships are revealed.  Steinhauer presents one character and then jumps back time to the other character's view.

Boss disappears in London after signing into a hotel under one of Milo's old cover names.  That cover name was already flagged for the museum robbery and child abduction and murder in book two.  Milo figures Boss is trying to draw him into a scheme.  Milo has no interest.  Milo is contacted by the CIA.  Milo is pressured.  Milo calls the CIA boss.  Oops, the agent was actually a Chinese plant.  Milo is under the Chinese Spymaster's thumb.

Meanwhile, Chinese Spymaster is on a mole hunt in his own organization and under pressure because of that hunt and the 33 murders.  Steinhauer does well with Chinese Spymaster.  He is not an evil mastermind but sure acted that way.  He loves his new wife.  His new wife is his dead son's wife.  (Yes, very creepy.)  Chinese Spymaster had learned the bare details of Boss's plot and put him under his thumb.  Chinese Spymaster has to survive (literally and professionally) a push against him within his spy organization.

Milo enters the CIA conspiracy.  A part of the conspiracy anyway, only the parts the CIA tell him about and even those parts may be false flags.  Milo's family are threatened and then kidnapped.  Milo's Russian father is murdered in Milo's apartment.  Milo ends up in Hong Kong, is captured, and repatriated.

Everything ends happily ever after with several dead Chinese agents, a dead Russian, and a Chinese Spymaster forced into spying for the CIA when he screws up and misses the real mole in the Chinese spy agency.  Chinese Spymaster is put under the thumb of the real mole.  Milo takes his dead father's intelligence job with the U.N. in Geneva.

1.  Milo is uncharacteristically trusting.  In fact he is stupid and shortsighted by the standards of this series.  Milo does not check and verify identities and assertions.  That seems out of character for a guy who was first a super spy, then a super spy manager, and then a super spy again.  Milo was a professional paranoid.  He does consider the tracking and surveillance on him.  Part of this is chalked up to being out of the business.  I call bullshit.  He was living a life of constant paranoia for 15 years and then he forgets his security procedures?
2. Another view at realpolitick.
2.a.  The lives of my people are more important than your people.
2.b.  You may not kill or torture my people.
2.c.  Only we can kill and torture our people and we don't need a reason.
2.d.  I don't know what you're doing but keep it up and do it to that guy.
EDIT 2.e. The issue of international murder just hit the news again.  It seems pretty clear that Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by the Russians in London in 2006.  Litvinenko was a naturalized English citizen.  The latest news is about a new coroner inquest with accusations that London has swept things under the rug to keep money flowing in trade deals.  "Hey, don't murder our people!  But, it's okay this time if you pay us off, just don't tell the guy's family and we'll keep lying to them also."
3.  Real estate in Geneva must be insane.  My parents have spent a decent amount of time in Zurich, first during sabbatical and then return trips.  My father would say "the land of high mountains and low prices".  The prices part was a joke.
4.  One night (Summer, 1990) I was walking through the park alongside Lake Zurich (Switzerland, not Illinois).  A guy on a bicycle rode along side me chatting me up.  I tried to ignore him and kept walking.  I sped up walking but what good is that next to a guy on a bike?  He eventually gave up and went away.  I was greatly relieved. According to a quick view of the Google map I was walking through the Rentenwiese.
5.  Maybe it was the University of Zurich where my father walked me over so I could exercise at their gym.
6.  Unfortunately this is the latest Milo book for now.  Maybe I'll try Steinhauer's other series. Or I could catch up on Alan Furst.

No comments: