Praise for An American Spy
“Stunning. . .Readers are irresistibly drawn into Weaver's dogged struggle to unravel a complicated game of cat and mouse. . .Steinhauer is at the top of his game—but when isn't he?"
“The action is lickety-split and spiked with exceedingly satisfying spy craft.”
—The New York Times
“Not since Le Carre has a writer so vividly evoked the multilayered, multifaceted, deeply paranoid world of espionage, in which identities and allegiances are malleable and ever shifting, the mirrors of loyalty and betrayal reflecting one another to infinity. In this intensely clever, sometimes baffling book, it’s never quite clear who is manipulating whom, and which side is up."
—The New York Times Book Review
“This ambitious, complex story spans the globe. Even when the intricacies of its plot are most challenging, we are fascinated and swept forward. Steinhauer has been likened to John le Carre and rightly so. Both men carry readers deep into a rival spy agency, one Soviet, one Chinese. . .Zhu may in time be to Weaver what the Soviet spymaster Karla was to le Carre’s George Smiley. Olen Steinhauer’s Milo Weaver novels are must-reads for lovers of the genre.”
—The Washington Post
Praise for The Nearest Exit
“The Nearest Exit [is] a terrific second installment in Olen Steinhauer’s ‘Tourist’ spy series about Milo Weaver, a brooding CIA operative with all the right lone-wolf tendencies. . .Milo’s company is at least as valuable to the series’ appeal as is his flair for international trickery.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times (Notable Book of 2010)
“Weaver is the novel’s gem. . .In many ways this is a classic spy novel, but it's Weaver’s angst that lifts the book to a compelling level of freshness.”
“Steinhauer delivers another winner in The Nearest Exit, a spy novel that asks deeper questions about the price we extract from individuals in the pursuit of the so-called greater good and the innocents who become collateral damage. It’s a subject as relevant to a spy within the CIA as it is to any of us: That’s a point that—through the prism of Milo's humanity and the dangerous web in which he finds himself enmeshed—Steinhauer makes abundantly and thrillingly clear.”
—Los Angeles Times
Praise for The Tourist
“Here’s the best spy novel I’ve ever read that wasn’t written by John le Carré. . .It’s a complex story of betrayal anchored by a protagonist who’s as winning as he is wily.”
—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
“Remember John le Carré . . . when he wrote about beaten-down, morally directionless spies? In other words, when he was good? That's how Olen Steinhauer writes in this tale of a world-weary spook who can't escape the old game.”
“The kind of principled hero we long to believe still exists in fiction, if not in life.”
—The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
About the Author
OLEN STEINHAUER is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, most recently The Nearest Exit. He is also a two-time Edgar Award finalist and has been shortlisted for the Anthony, the Macavity, the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and the Barry awards. Raised in Virginia, he lives in California.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The time Xin Zhu spent trying to be unheard could have added up to an entire life. Hours driving extra laps through a city, watching the rearview; accumulated minutes gazing into street-window reflections and standing in queues for bread or soup he didn’t even want because his stomach was in knots. Sitting behind desks, thinking through cover stories and diversions and wondering how long ago his office was last scoured for bugs. Visits to cemeteries and bars and churches and empty warehouses and parking garages, only to find that his date wasn’t going to show up. Meals lost sitting for hours in dark rooms, in airports and train stations and wet public squares, waiting.
Then today, driving the dull hour and a half from Beijing to Nankai along the G020, ditching his ten-year-old Audi and taking a taxi to the train station in tree-lined Xiqing. Waiting on the platform until the Qingdao train started to roll before heaving his large body and small gray overnight bag onto the last car. Hovering in the doorway as the station passed, watching for latecomers. All this, even though this same train began life in south Beijing, not so far from where his journey began. All this, just to meet someone who, like him, lived and worked in Beijing.
The story, which his assistant could be depended on to proliferate, was that Xin Zhu was on a weekend trip to Shanghai to gain 665 miles of perspective and consider his dwindling options. By the time the masters in Beijing realized—if they realized—that the big, silent man checking into Shanghai’s Pudong Shangri-La was not Xin Zhu, it would be too late.
As the train headed southeast on its five-hour itinerary, he worked his way toward the front. He was a conspicuously fat man, and when he came upon others either he or they had to squeeze into a spare seat to allow space to pass. Newspapers, covered with photos of devastation—Sichuan province, annihilation by earthquake—were folded noisily to let him by. Occasionally, when coming upon young women with children, he offered a smile of sympathy as he raised his bag above his head, and they wedged themselves past each other. Finally, he found a pair of free seats in the front row of a clean, beige-paneled car. Zhu lifted the armrest between them and settled down gratefully before spotting more photos on more newspapers, rubble and weeping.
There was no other subject in the country, which almost made him feel guilty for this excursion. Four days ago, an earthquake had struck Wenchuan, in eastern Sichuan province, powerful enough to be felt more than a thousand miles away in the capital. The nation had mobilized. Nearly a hundred thousand soldiers were deployed, two thousand Health Ministry medical staff, a hundred and fifty aircraft. The confirmed dead totaled twenty thousand, but the published estimate was at least fifty thousand, which was probably low. In the face of that, what did the future of one fat spy matter?
As he waited for his breathing to ebb and the fine layer of sweat over his blunt features to evaporate, the ash-colored outskirts of Xiqing passed. The air was better here, and would only grow cleaner as they neared the coast. He, too, felt cleaner, being out of the capital. He always felt better in the field.
The conductor, a pleasant-looking woman in an immaculate blue uniform, darkened when he said that he wanted to buy a ticket from her. “You boarded with no ticket?”
“Last-minute change in plans. I had no choice.”
“We always have a choice.”
He could have ended the discussion by producing his Guoanbu ID, but instead he said, “My choice was to board the train or let my mother die.”
“She’ll die if she doesn’t see your face?”
“The Qingdao hospital is out of blood. She’ll die if I don’t give her mine.”
He could tell from her eyes that she didn’t believe him—at least, she didn’t want to believe him. She finally said, “You think you can move into one seat?”
Zhu opened his hands to display his girth. “Plainly impossible.”
“Then you’ll have to pay for two seats.”
She was modern in her hairstyle and speech, but Zhu recognized her lineage in the millions of petty dictators China had produced during the Cultural Revolution. Rules as badges, laws as weapons. He said, “Then I will pay for two seats,” and reached for his wallet.
As the hours and the sinking landscape passed, he tried to put both Wenchuan and his personal troubles out of his head and watched the young couples that boarded and disembarked at each stop. They looked nothing like the peasant couples of his youth—they had clean teeth, fine clothes, modest jewelry, cell phones, and the sparkle of life about them, as if they could very clearly see what tomorrow looked like and were undeterred. He admired such optimism, even as the newspapers denied it with grisly photographs of collapsed buildings and helmeted workers digging through rubble to find corpses. The whole nation, perhaps the whole world, was watching as hope faded, and Xin Zhu was riding a train to the coast, rather than westward, to work alongside the volunteers. The first step toward helping others, he reflected with only a touch of self-consciousness, is to ensure your own survival.
As they left Jinan, one of his cell phones buzzed. “Shen An-ling,” he said into it, his tone one of a man on vacation, “Shanghai is beautiful.”
“So I’ve heard, Xin Zhu,” came his assistant’s thin voice. “I have also heard that, while you’ve checked into the hotel, you’ve barricaded yourself in the room. Might I suggest taking in the sights?”
Shen An-ling was pushing the cover a little too hard, which meant that he wasn’t alone. “For the thinking I have to do, distractions will just get in the way.”
“Nature, time, and patience are the three great physicians,” Shen An-ling said, banally—and uncharacteristically—quoting proverb. “Don’t think it can be rushed. You should get some air.”
“I’ll open the window. Is the office running smoothly?”
“We’ve been honored by a visit from Yang Qing-Nian.”
Of course—Yang Qing-Nian, the right hand of Wu Liang. Who else would have asked why Xin Zhu was not leaving his hotel room? “Does he bring good news from the Supervision and Liaison Committee?”
“He brings good wishes … and a request for you to visit the committee at nine o’clock on Monday morning.”
“I look forward to it,” Zhu said with as much conviction as he could muster. “Make sure Yang Qing-Nian is comfortable. The best tea for Yang Qing-Nian.”
His thoughts now utterly derailed, he hung up and took from his bag a small box of rice balls his young wife had prepared. He began to eat them, one by one, imagining Yang Qing-Nian in his Haidian District office, sniffing and touching everything, storing every detail away for his report to Wu Liang. The place is a mess. They work like English clerks, noses to their screens. Stuffy, no open windows, and it stinks of cigarettes and peanut sauce. The place could do with a good cleaning.
The irony was that Yang Qing-Nian and his master, Wu Liang, believed that they, in themselves, were enough to inspire fear. They believed that the appearance of Yang Qing-Nian, or anyone from the Ministry of Public Security, the domestic intelligence service, could throw him off his game, or leave him worrying all weekend in Shanghai about a Monday morning scolding. Were they his only worry, he actually would be in Shanghai, at a rooftop bar, enjoying a cognac and a Hamlet. Instead, all he could do now was ask a passing uniformed girl for one of her overpriced bottles of water.
It was nearly five when they pulled into Qingdao Station, which had been renovated for the Olympic boating competitions that would descend in the coming months. As he wandered the platform, bumping into hunched men lighting cigarettes, he gazed up at the freshly ubiquitous spiderweb ceiling of steel and glass. How much had it cost? With all the bribes and evictions that had riddled the great cities’ expensive facelifts, no one knew for sure. Then, across the hall, he saw a long but orderly queue leading to a temporary Red Cross counter, handing over donations. Yesterday, the newspapers reported that donations for the earthquake victims had reached 1.3 billion yuan. Zhu walked toward the counter, paused, then approached a wet-faced old woman near the front of the line and gave her ten hundred-yuan notes, about 150 dollars, to add to her offering. She was speechless.
Outside, a bright late-afternoon sun was tempered by the Yellow Sea breeze. He set down his bag, took out a cigar tin, and lit a filtered Hamlet before joining a crowd of young people crossing Feixian Road. They passed two bright, packed restaurants—Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s—on their way to Bathing Beach #6. The teenagers raised their voices and hurried down to the water, while he remained on the sidewalk, smoking and watching their lean, young bodies prance across the sand and dive into the sea.
Though his own people had been from the mountains, he had always felt sympathy for coastal people. They shared the pragmatic objectivity of their mountain brothers. He watched the out-of-towners flop in the water while the stoic locals looked on and sold them fried things from steaming carts.
The #501 bus was half empty, and he took a pair of seats in the back for the hour-long journey. An entire life could be filled doing these things.
The sun was low in the west when he got out in front of a high-rise on a broad avenue in Laoshan, at the foot of Laoshan Mountain. He was one of five passenger...