Olen Steinhauer

American novelist Olen Steinhauer currently lives in Budapest, where he wrote the five book series that started with The Bridge of Sighs, detailing the Cold War history of a fictional Eastern European country, with one title for each decade through the forties, fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. From there he’s gone on to a trilogy based around CIA assassin Milo Weaver. 


  • The Tourist, which would possibly have been better read before The Nearest Exit but stands well enough on its own while filling in the details of the Milo Weaver back story, starting in September  2001, with Weaver on an emergency mission chasing Slovenia station chief Frank Dawdle has disappeared with a fortune meant to lure a Serbian war criminal out of hiding. Milo’s working with longtime colleague Angela Yates, and they trace Dawdle to Italy, where things go wrong, Dawdle is killed, Weaver is shot but happens upon the woman he marries on the day she gives birth to his step-daughter. Seven years later Milo Weaver is a middle-level manager in New York until he’s sent to track down a Jackal-type assassin. Weaver catches up with him in Tennessee, where he’s dying of AIDS and asks Weaver to find his killer. The assassin is, however, also being pursued by Homeland Security, and inter-Agency intrigue adds a complicating factor to the investigation in a tightly-written narrative that keeps the pages turning. There was enough in these two to have Steinhauer firmly on the watch for more list.
  • The Nearest Exit, the second story about elite CIA assassin Milo Weaver, who becomes disillusioned with his job after being instructed to kill Adriana Stanescu, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Moldovan migrants in Germany. Instead of killing the girl, Weaver abducts her, making arrangements to keep her safely hidden until he can figure out why anyone would want her dead, but the girl still ends up dead, and Milo becomes involved in the hunt for a mole in the CIA. Based on this one The Tourist and Steinhauer’s earlier series based behind the Iron Curtain certainly look to be worth investigating.
  • An American Spy (2012), where Weaver’s old boss from the Department of Tourism disappears in London while apparently on a mission to avenge the loss of his agents brought about by Chinese spymaster Xin Zhu. The story cuts back and forth across time as the details are playd out. Very clever exercise where nothing and nobody turns out to be quite what they seem. Not sure where the Weaver series goes from here, but Steinhauer continued to hold a place in the watch for list...
  • The Vienna Assignment (2005) (a.k.a. 36 Yalta Boulevard), the third of five novels in a fictional Eastern European country behind the Iron Curtain somewhere around Ruthenia (now part of the Ukraine) in 1966 and 1967. The two earlier titles are set in the forties and fifties, and both apparently have the main character here as a player rather than the protagonist.Brano Sev is a wartime partisan turned postwar secret policeman reassigned to work on a factory assembly line after what appears to have been a botched  assignment in Vienna. Six months later he’s recalled to duty and sent to his home village, where a defector has returned, presumably to collect his family and defect again. Sev is supposed to keep an eye on him, but when one of the villagers is murdered Sev is firmly in the frame and forced to flee back to Austria, where he becomes involved in matters surrounding an American-funded group who are out to create a popular uprising in his homeland. It’s up to Brano to either aid and abet or scuttle and abort the project, and you can’t help feeling he’s going to miss out whichever way he jumps. From there, we enter spoiler territory, noting that it’s another Cold War track down the mole in the Security Service plot line, and one that twists and turns in a suitably labyrinthine manner.  Read out of sequence, but I’ll be chasing One and Two before I set out to track down Four and Five.


© Ian Hughes 2012