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Showing posts by: Olen Steinhauer click to see Olen Steinhauer's profile
Fri
Jul 28 2017 3:12pm

Olen Steinhauer on His Milo Weaver Series

The idea of a Tourist as a kind of intelligence agent sprang out of my own lifestyle in 2007. I’d never been a spy, committed murder, or smuggled state secrets across borders, but for the previous six years I’d lived as a novelist in Budapest, living in that tenuous non-place where many expatriates exist. It’s neither the home you’ve left behind, nor an adopted culture—instead, it’s somewhere in between: a country of the mind, in which English is the national language, the Habsburg buildings are an outdoor museum made just for you, and because of your disconnection from the culture you can arrange your daily details pretty much as you’d like.

It’s a world without roots, carrying within it all the pros and cons this suggests, and until the birth of my daughter the rootlessness of the expat felt like a powerful thing to possess. I knew that at any moment, if necessary, I could disappear. Therein lies freedom.

Tourism is expatriatism on steroids. It’s born out of that teenager inside us who wishes we had a bottomless credit card and could move, day-to-day, week-to-week, for the rest of our days.  Travel light, leave little trace, and avoid the practicalities most poor citizens must deal with. State taxes, pesky neighbors, and even luggage: When our clothes are dirty we’ll just buy new ones.  

“Autonomy,” says the Black Book of Tourism, “is the most attractive aspect of Tourism. When you were taken from your cubicle and handed off to one of those bloodless agents who drove you, hooded, to a place of conversation, this was the cornerstone of the pitch. See the world! Live well! Leave paperwork behind! It’s called Tourism because it’s an endless vacation!”

Yet there’s more than adolescent fantasy at work in The Tourist, for what interested me was the effect such a lifestyle would have on someone who’d been at it for years, homeless and rootless, his raison d’etre merely the next job. What happens after the initial high of absolute freedom?

Like their small-t namesakes, Tourists are well advised to leave trust behind, but unlike tourists or expats, their travels are nearly always solo, and given their brief, work-filled stays there’s no possibility of finding love along the way. Nor can the Tourist check out of the hotel and head home to a spouse and child who serve as checks on reality. Who could survive such a life?

This, really, is why I write espionage fiction: to explore the effect a life of deceit and duplicity has on essentially moral people. It’s a life that strikes me—the “me” who at the time was preparing for fatherhood—as finally crushing, which is why when the book opens, we’re introduced to our Tourist-extraordinaire, Milo Weaver, with the words:

Four hours after his failed suicide attempt, he descended toward Aerodrom Ljubljana.

Certainly there are some who would thrive on this life—we’re not all built the same—however, I’m pretty sure I wouldn't want to invite those individuals over for a dinner party.

What surprised me, as I wrote The Tourist, was how such a simple concept—the unmoored intelligence agent—grew tendrils, its scope spreading wider until it blocked out everything. Novelists live for ideas like this, ones that produce stories wherever you look. While it may not make the job easier, it’s certainly more enjoyable when your cup runneth over. As a result, The Tourist unexpectedly spawned two more books—The Nearest Exit and An American Spy—to form a trilogy. And even now, having published two standalones, I’m still unable to shake the shadow of Milo Weaver. He’s so persistent that he's making an appearance in a new novel I'm working on now. And as soon as he showed his haggard face, the outlines of new Milo novels began to appear to me, like magic.

There was a time when Tourism, the rootlessness and the danger, would have excited me outside the pages of a novel. Back then, I had no idea that the greatest challenges would arrive from a different quarter. Perhaps that’s why I gave Milo both worlds: He begins as a Tourist, then leaves that life to take on marriage and fatherhood. He thinks his worries are over, but he’s just as naïve as I once was, dreaming of passports and open-ended credit cards and the light step of the unencumbered.

Every fool gets to be young once.

 

Copyright © 2017 Olen Steinhauer.

To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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Olen Steinhauer grew up in Virginia, and has since lived in Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Massachusetts, and New York. Outside the US, he's lived in Croatia (when it was called Yugoslavia), the Czech Republic and Italy. He also spent a year in Romania on a Fulbright grant, an experience that helped inspire his first five books. He now lives in Hungary with his wife and daughter.

Thu
Oct 29 2015 12:00pm

The Many Masks of Actors and Spies: Pulling into Berlin Station

For the past year I’ve been wrapped up in a project that, to be honest, has taken a lot more of my time than I suspected it would. It’s a TV show, Berlin Station, that I’ve been creating and writing with the help of a small staff of writers in a room in New York City. By the time you read this, I will have moved with my family to Berlin to go through the rigors of preproduction and shooting, and by Fall of 2016 you should be able to see the results in your very home.

Creating a show is the inverse of novel-writing, which I’ve done for more than a decade now. The collaborative nature, the huge variety of tastes that have to be satisfied, and the way a lot of the brainstorming has to be done outside the house has forced me out of my little creative bubble. Which is both exhilarating and unnerving.                                           

Along the way I’ve had the chance to speak with some talented actors about the project. When you say you’re making a spy show, it’s people leap to assumptions: one explosion per episode, a dashing protagonist who saves the world once a week, and an unbelievably young, attractive cast. That’s not the kind of show Berlin Station is, and so when I speak with actors I find myself having to explain what the show actually is.

[Are you ready?]

Wed
Mar 4 2015 4:00pm
Excerpt

All the Old Knives: New Audio Excerpt

Olen Steinhauer

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer is an espionage thriller about an ex-couple from the CIA who can't get over their failed hostage-handling from six years ago (available March 10, 2015).

Six years ago in Vienna, terrorists took over a hundred hostages, and the rescue attempt went terribly wrong. The CIA's Vienna station was witness to this tragedy, gathering intel from its sources during those tense hours, assimilating facts from the ground and from an agent on the inside. So when it all went wrong, the question had to be asked: Had their agent been compromised, and how?

Two of the CIA's case officers in Vienna, Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison, were lovers at the time, and on the night of the hostage crisis Celia decided she'd had enough. She left the agency, married and had children, and is now living an ordinary life in the idyllic town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Henry is still a case officer in Vienna, and has traveled to California to see her one more time, to relive the past, maybe, or to put it behind him once and for all.

But neither of them can forget that long-ago question: Had their agent been compromised? If so, how? Each also wonders what role tonight's dinner companion might have played in the way the tragedy unfolded six years ago.

[Click here to start All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer...]

Thu
Mar 15 2012 12:00pm

Too English? Espionage Authors Discuss Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Author Olen Steinhauer (left) talks with author Charles Cumming (right) about one of our favorite subjects here at Crime HQ...spies, spy novels, and spy movies. In particular, John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy!

If you haven’t seen the film or read the novel, there may be spoilers ahead—be warned!

CC: Why do you think Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy fared better in the UK and Europe than it did at the US box office?

OS: I think that can be explained largely by the fact that Smiley doesn’t say his first word until the 17-minute mark; Tinker, Tailor is a quiet film, unlike the thriller fare regularly served up in our cinemas. It is, by American standards, an art film; I mean, all those gorgeous, static shots, those scenes where nothing is said, those jump-cuts requiring viewers to fill in the blanks in order to play catch up along with Smiley… It’s not mainstream in any sense of the word.

[Spying on the world is a quiet business...]

Mon
Feb 27 2012 12:00pm
Excerpt

An American Spy: New Excerpt

Olen Steinhauer

An American Spy by Olen SteinhauerWith only a handful of “tourists”—-CIA-trained assassins—-left, Milo Weaver would like to move on and use this as an opportunity to regain a normal life, a life focused on his family. His former boss in the CIA, Alan Drummond, can’t let it go. When Alan uses one of Milo’s compromised aliases to travel to London and then disappears, calling all kinds of attention to his actions, Milo can’t help but go in search of him.

Worse still, it’s beginning to look as if Tourism’s enemies are gearing up for a final, fatal blow.

 

ORDER OF THING
Tuesday, April 22 to Thursday, April 24, 2008

There had been signs, and it was more a measure of luck than intelligence savvy that Erika Schwartz was able to put them together in time. For instance, the military counterintelligence office, MAD, could easily have left her off the distribution list for their April 17 report on EU-related anomalies—a list they only added her to because they were preparing to ask for the use of an Iranian source in return. When the report came, it would have been easy to miss number 53, an item from Budapest. In fact, she did miss number 53, and her assistant, Oskar Leintz, had to draw her attention to it. He came into her new, large-windowed office on the second floor of the Pullach headquarters of the BND, the German Republic’s foreign intelligence agency, slapping the report against his palm. “You saw the bit from Budapest?”

She’d been sitting, uncharacteristically, with a salad on her desk, staring out the window where, just over the trees, she could see distant storm clouds. Since her promotion two weeks earlier, she still hadn’t gotten used to having a view; her previous office had been on the ground floor. She hadn’t gotten used to having resources, nor to the look on people’s faces when they walked into her office and shuddered, having forgotten that this obese, ill-humored woman now sat at Teddy Wartmüller’s desk. As for poor Teddy, he was in prison. “Of course I saw the bit from Budapest,” she said. “Which bit?”

“You haven’t touched that salad.”

“Which bit from Budapest, Oskar?”

“Henry Gray.”

Of course, she’d seen number 53, but she hadn’t connected the name because she’d only seen it once before, months ago, on another report from the same source, a journalist named Johann Thüringer. Now, with Oskar’s prodding, it returned to her. She opened her copy of the MAD report.

53. JT in Budapest: On the night of 15 April, Henry Gray (American journalist—see ZNBw reports 8/2007 & 12/2007) disappeared. His romantic partner, Zsuzsa Papp (Hungarian), insists he was kidnapped. Her suspicion: either the USA or China. When pressed, though, she refuses to go into details.

“Gray is connected to Milo Weaver,” Oskar helpfully reminded her, now stroking his thin mustache.

“Tangentially,” she said, then noticed that she’d gotten some Caesar dressing on the report. She remembered Thüringer’s observations from 8/2007 and 12/2007. In August, he reported that Mr. Gray had been thrown off the terrace of his Budapest apartment and was in a coma. The December report noted that Gray had woken in the hospital and eventually disappeared on his own. Soon afterward, an AP stringer named Milo Weaver had arrived asking questions about him. Gray had so far eluded the man . . . until now, at least.

[Read—and listen to—the complete excerpt of chapters 1-3 of An American Spy by Olen Steinhauer]