In his latest thriller, Steinhauer (Victory Square, 2007, etc.) ventures into the darkest corners of the CIA and finds the place full of antiheroes.
Milo Weaver is a CIA legend, a member in terrific standing of an elite undercover operation known as the Tourists, until, inevitably—no one ever stays a Tourist forever—he runs out of courage. This happens on the streets of Venice during a shootout. He takes a couple of bullets in the chest, survives and recovers and, subsequently, elects to burrow into the bureaucracy. Soon he’s spending most of his time jockeying a desk at CIA headquarters in New York. He has a wife and daughter that he adores, and he is content indeed to have come in from the cold. But then, six years later, on a day much like any other, there’s the life-altering phone call. It’s from his boss, about the Tiger, with whom Milo has long had a special, peculiarly respectful relationship. Ferocious as the animal he’s nicknamed for, the Tiger is also maddeningly elusive, but now he seems to be languishing in jail, caught by a small-town sheriff. Milo is dispatched to identify him. And so it begins anew—the perilous, labyrinthine journey replete with unforeseen way stations and a multiplicity of secret agendas, all of them dark, many of them potentially lethal. Milo will find himself a murder suspect. His family will be endangered. Implacable enemies will pursue him, and friends will betray him. In the end, “a strand of Tourist philosophy” will seem to apply—that hope is counterproductive, an illusion. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll hope anyway.
A little too talky, a little too convoluted to rank among Steinhauer’s very best. Still, only le Carré can make a spy as interesting.