“The Last Tourist” by Olen Steinhauer, Minotaur Books, 375 pages, $27.99.
Olen Steinhauer has just delivered another fine Milo Weaver novel, a pleasant surprise to fans who believed the series had ended with three books, the last published in 2012.
His novel “The Tourist” (2009) started the whole Weaver thing by introducing the morally conflicted spy and the construct of a small, stealthy, deniable group inside the CIA that could move fast to do what ought to be done -- in the eyes of some. If referred to at all, the group was known as the Department of Tourism.
In subsequent works, “The Nearest Exit” (2010) and “An American Spy” (2012), the group thrust its way around the world, making friends and encountering enemies, neither clearly labeled. Milo Weaver’s path was sometimes abetted by this sister Alexandra and led him to his Russian-born father, a United Nations factotum. This pulled him into and through a UN bureaucracy every bit as fraught and secretive as the CIA.
“An American Spy” featured Chinese intrigue with aspects that nicely span the gap to the current work. Early in “The Last Tourist” we find Weaver enmeshed in the secret structure built inside the UN by his late father and known by those in the know as The Library. It is a dispersed source and clearinghouse for high quality global information of great value. Here author Steinhauer plays on themes of American decline under weak leadership and growing corporate strength. It makes for heavy reading.
But that is not to diminish the fun of reading Olen Steinhauer. I keep a huge world atlas at my side. (Of course you could look things up on an iPad or your phone, but where is the joy in that?) When Weaver is sent to extract an agent from Laayoune, Western Sahara (not a country, but a disputed west African territory), Steinhauer includes so many convincing details that it is hard to believe he has not been there.
From the air, he writes, the airport looks “ready to be swallowed by the Sahara” and “despite the long ago name change from Spanish to Western Sahara, the Arabic sign over the passenger terminal also read AEROPUERTO DE EL AAIÚN.” Though incomplete, it is more about the geography and history of northwest Africa than I have been taught anywhere else. It is the kind of rich detail that keeps fans coming back to these novels and bang-bang-kill-die spy readers tossing them aside with impatience.
Meanwhile, the plot revolves around the surviving Tourists who carry on super moral work as though in pursuit of Superman’s old mission, “the never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way,” the good American Way we all believed in once.
The battle must come to heartbreaking halts when Weaver confronts the conflicts between it and human weakness — betrayal, madness, misdirection. For him, it is always family above all, and he cannot keep what for him is a vocation separated from his family, including his wife and daughter.
His loyalty to the CIA, then to Tourism, then to The Library across the entire series is a marker for the frailty of organizational morality. In this episode, he must place faith in the truthfulness of the Library’s information. If it is wrong or, worse, purposely corrupted, innocents will die. It is the ultimate dilemma in pursuit of truth and human justice. And a gripping tale in the telling.
Kandra Hahn lives in Lincoln and writes book reviews for the Lincoln Journal Star.
Stay up-to-date on what's happening
Receive the latest in local entertainment news in your inbox weekly!