An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer

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An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: In this riveting ride of a spy novel Chinese spy Xin Zhu has wiped out and closed down an American intelligence espionage department, causing its former boss, Alan Drummond, distress that only revenge will quench. Meanwhile attack survivor Milo Weaver just wants time to recover and be with his family but Alan has gone missing and (unfortunately for Milo) Alan is more than his ex-boss - he's also a friend.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Corvus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1848876026

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The Beijing Olympics approach and Xin Zhu has every reason to be proud: a high ranking position in China's espionage system, a beautiful new young wife and the satisfaction of having wiped out 33 American agents and so closing down their department. But the spy business is not a place for resting on laurels, especially when American Alan Drummond wants to avenge the death of his entire department. Meanwhile survivor of the massacre, Milo Weaver, just wants time to recover and space to be with his family. The unlikelihood of that happening is pretty high; however, it becomes a lot more remote when Alan disappears.

This is a world existing outside our own. There are no ethics, no goodies, no baddies, just a strong survival instinct and a paranoia born of not knowing whom (or which side) is watching you. Career and off duty merge so that even popping to the shops or collecting children from school become an exercise in second guessing bystanders' motives.

This, the third novel in Olen Steinhauer's Milo Weaver series, I'm ashamed to say, is my first encounter with either the author or the spy. However I didn't feel lost or alienated by plot lines running through the series or 'in' jokes. In fact it can be seen as tribute to Steinhauer's writing that I didn't feel as if I was being penalised for my tardy arrival at all. (An 'other authors take note' moment perhaps?) Similarly any references to previous episodes were kept to the minimum in order to ensure that stalwart Weaver fans weren't forced to revise against their will. Indeed, An American Spy works as well as a stand-alone as it seems to alongside its companion volumes but, thinking about it, 'works well' is a bit of an understatement.

In the book blurb Steinhauer is likened to John le Carre (the father of famous writer Nick Harkaway*) by none other than thriller writer extraordinaire, Lee Child. I agree that An American Spy is every bit as good as a le Carre novel, but it's also more accessible. We all know people who have read or seen Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and come out of the experience a little confused and bewildered. Well, Olen Steinhauer is every bit as intricate but the intricacy is in the plotting; the writing being so clear and straightforward that it's easy to follow with only a little concentration. The characters are introduced at an absorbable rate, fully formed and from there everything just flows. Please don't misunderstand me, though; this is no fluffy read. The brain does need to be engaged just a little bit but the rewards of this engagement are great.

Actually the river metaphor is a good one when trying to explain this novel. The reader is treated to chapters and sections from the main characters' viewpoints that become tributaries, meandering into the main story's flow. This is the clever bit. Your perceptions will be twisted into a certain direction and then reformed and led in a different direction so often that paddling against the river by trying to guess the twists and outcomes becomes pointless. I'm normally a prolific twist guesser but this novel leads the reader through so many variations that in the end I just allowed the story's current to take me. Just sit back and admire the author's artistry. In fact the ride is so enjoyable you may want to catch up with Mr Steinhauer's back catalogue. I speak from experience – I have a nice Milo-Weaver-shaped space free on my bookshelves just waiting to be filled.

I would like to thank the publisher for giving Bookbag a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this and would like to check out the comparison for yourself, why not try the John le Carre classic The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

  • That's by way of an apology to Nick Harkaway as we did once bless him with the wrong father.

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Buy An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer at


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