An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer
I received the Advanced Read Copy (ARC) of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.
As I read this book, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would’ve liked it better if I’d read the first two books in this series. And I hate it when you have to read the previous books in a series; I believe all books in the series should be able to stand alone.
The book is well written, however. The twists and turns and reveals are worthy of any classic spy novel. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, the author would throw another twist into the tale and I’d discover I really didn’t know anything at all. I remained confused – but intrigued – throughout the book. As I got closer to the end, I expected things to start coming together but they just became more entangled. It ends, as all good books do, with the characters renewed, still conflicted, most questions answered and the beginning of another story.
Don’t expect to read a thriller, however. Reading this book is like watching a poker tournament, and all the characters maintain poker faces and play their cards close to the vest. It moves slowly, with a great deal of purpose. It’s complex and multilayered in both story and characters, with Chinese spymaster Xin Zhu facing off against Alan Drummond, the head of The Tourist department when Xin Zhu kills almost all the agents in the department. Xin Zhu is no cartoon-character spymaster; he is deep and complex and the author writes him well, giving the reader a glimpse into his motives and methods without revealing too much about the plot. The big surprise (for me, at least) was Alan Drummond. I thought he was a drunken fool headed for self destruction. I couldn’t have been more wrong. His motives run even deeper than Xin Zhu’s; essential to the plot suspense, the reader isn’t given much insight into Alan until the big reveal.
The character I had difficulty connecting with was Milo Weaver, ostensibly the main character of these books. Thus, my feeling that I would’ve enjoyed the story more if I’d read the others. I actually thought Milo played a pretty peripheral role for a character that is supposed to be the center of the story.
All in all, I enjoyed this story but I’m not gushing about it. I’m not gushing over the price, either. Like most traditionally published books, it’s expensive. The paperback, at just over $10, is priced lower than the e-book, which is $12.99. I’d read the other books in this series, as well as any subsequent books, but I’d check them out of the library or buy used paperbacks.