Archive for spy novels

The Cairo Affair [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2017 by xi'an

After reading the Tourist trilogy, I decided to embark upon another spy novel by Steinhauer and took this book to India as another “emergency” book. Meaning as a way to escape delays and waits during our travel. While this is not a major change from the above trilogy, which I really liked, The Cairo Affair reads well and thus fits its purpose. Some of the appeal of the book is its immersion in very recent geopolitical events in Libya (far from over by now) and Egypt. (I presume there are a lot of other spy novels taking advantage of these major shifts, so this is not a major incentive for the book!) Another appeal is the connection with places I visited as a (real) tourist, from Budapest, to Croatia, to Cairo, even though I got a much more fragmented picture of the latter in the few days I spent there. While the underlying plot ends up being very thin (spoiler?!), I also liked the extreme ambiguity of the main character, whose motivations are never really revealed, possibly unknown even to herself. This major aspect of the novel makes for shortcomings on the realism plane. Worth a plane ride, definitely.

The Tourist & The Nearest Exit [book reviews]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on June 23, 2013 by xi'an

“They took a lengthy route, heading out to Boulevard Adolphe Pinard, which circled the city.” The Tourist

Andrew and Caroline brought me two books from Olen Steinhauer a few weeks ago. I had never heard of this author, but I started reading the first book, The Tourist, on my trip to Vietnam. It proved such a page-turner that I finished it within a day from my return and then I could not resist starting the second volume The Nearest Exit. Which I also finished in a few days. The theme of these books is a secret branch of the CIA focussed on assassinations and similar murky operations. Kind of classic, in the spirit of Le Carré, with a touch of Bourne identity, since the central character is investigating his own hierarchy most of the time. But darker too, and deeply pessimistic as well.

“Milo looked at facts to find the connection, if any, between them, and then built up his theories (…) For someone like Gray, Occam’s razor did not exist, for his logic was already corrupted by assumptions.” The Nearest Exit

Besides the overall cynicism of the novel (those special spies are called Tourists!), and its rather accurate rendering of European scenes (with a major geographic blunder about Boulevard Adolphe Pinard, reproduced in the quote above: Boulevard Adolphe Pinard is where my CREST office is located and it is in the South of Paris, not all around Paris and certainly not close to Angela’s appartment, in the 11th Arrondissment: the name of the entire inner Paris beltway is called Boulevards des Maréchaux, because all boulevard names correspond to marshals of Napoléon’s army; it does not include Pinard, who is one of the fathers of French obstetrics), the interesting side of the novel is more the delve into the psychology of the central character Milo and the rising inner questioning induced by his nefarious activities. Esp. after he became a family man (which sounds a tad implausible). Rather than in the action parts. In this respect, I prefered The Nearest Exit to The Tourist because it brought a very interesting perspective on the utlra-classic mole-in-the-service plot. Although I again found the central piece of the novel, i.e. having to [and refusing to] murder a 15-year-old Moldavian, a bit too much of a stretch in terms of plausibility. (Here is a fair review from the NYT.)

“Espionage rarely, if ever, provoked wild emotions from men [who] worked from behind desks, and to [whom], losses and gains were extended mathematical equations (…) No one could get so upset over math.” The Nearest Exit

Overall, I recommend highly enough those novels to consider buying the next and final volume, An American Spy, whenever I find it in an airport. Perfect travel books (except when you start looking for Tourists among your fellow passengers…)