Sunday, 8 May 2011

Olen Steinhauer; The Nearest Exit

I blogged earlier on The Tourist, Olen Steinhauer's first Milo Weaver book, and complained that it took it own sweet time to get anywhere and then wrapped it all up with ludicrous haste. At the time, I thought that this was just Steinhauer getting his origin story out of the way. Turns out I was being too kind. The Nearest Exit has pretty much the same problem, and I'm coming to the conclusion that Steinhauer may have a preferred structure of high concept opening, a boatload of faffing about in the middle, and a very hasty wrap at the end which purportedly whips together everything he's just written about, but feels kind of forced.

It's a more satisfying bit of work than the first Milo Weaver book, but it still doesn't feel essential to me. The plot is tricksy, but essentially straightforward, and the time line of the action is cleaner and brisker. What's weird is that in The Tourist, Steinhauer seemed to be setting up a struggle between the wild end of the CIA and an entirely ridiculous notion of a UN intelligence agency; the second book drops this idea completely. Steinhauer seems to think in very big chunks, so it wouldn't surprise me if he came back and got stuck into what he set up in book 1, but The Nearest Exit spends most of its time wallowing in individual angst before briskly annihilating almost the entire Department of Tourism, stripping out Steinhauer's only apparent master villain.

Stuff that is good; it makes a nice change for an evil government department to be run by someone who appears to be a nice guy and actually turns out to be one. The character writing is good - I know I complain about how the characters aren't very likeable, but they're well realised, and they more or less make sense. Stuff that isn't good; well, I'm glad the Department of Tourism has been pretty much wiped out, because I never could work up any belief in them, or in the way they're depicted. Reading about the Tourists was always annoying. Maybe people really can stay functional while constantly drinking and taking uppers, but it doesn't make any sense to me that anyone professional would try. Then again, I prefer not to do anything important if I've been drinking. Maybe I'm not the guy to measure this against.

Anyhow, the UN is off the boil, and the Department of Tourism is pretty much gone. And Milo Weaver's boring marriage is still limping along. There's a third book due out in the autumn, and I wonder if I care enough about what's going on to do more than check out the plot on Wikipedia.

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