me + olen steinhauer #richardarmitage

Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) talks with his boss in Washington (I assume) in the first teaser trailer for Berlin Station. My cap.

Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) talks with his boss in Washington (I assume) in the first teaser trailer for Berlin Station. My cap.

Seeing as how the Berlin Station publicity has gotten me intrigued, and prompted a bit by Herba (who read the German translation of his 2015 bestseller, All the Old Knives), I decided it was time to read at least one Olen Steinhauer novel. Steinhauer is the creator of Berlin Station, and has garnered a great deal of praise for his bestselling spy and suspense novels, with some of them under contract for filming.

After looking at the options, I decided for The Tourist (2009), the first title in a trilogy about a CIA agent named Milo Weaver, who has a pressing need to unravel who killed his best friend (CIA agent Angela Yates) and a whole passel of American three-letter agencies on his trail.

Steinhauer is often compared in criticism to John le Carré and Graham Greene, and I can’t figure out why, unless the critics haven’t read those authors. To put it bluntly, both of those authors are strong stylists and their works are a pleasure to read for their prose as much as their subject matter; they qualify as “literature.” In comparison, Steinhauer’s prose is pedestrian and his characters have none of the suppressed energy of a le Carré or Greene protagonist and (despite his efforts to make Milo into a philosopher) little of the intellectual depth. Steinhauer signals at the beginning with a relatively shocking first chapter that he is going for a “broken hero,” but claims about Milo’s suicidal tendencies aren’t really upheld in the remainder of the narrative. The emotional level of the work fell entirely flat for me, as I never developed much sympathy with Milo (despite the blows to which he is subjected, which include interrogation under electric shock). The biggest identification I made with any character was with his much-put-upon wife, Tina, who’s peripheral to the story. The Tourist is written in an even less complex style than a Robert Ludlum or Ken Follett novel. Another possible comparison is Tom Clancy, except that Clancy is big on technology and weaponry (or was when I was regularly reading him) and this novel is not. He’s not as violent or effects-ridden-thrilling as David Baldacci nor as historically oriented as Robert Harris. In the end, the book is competently written and the protagonist is a likeable, sane, humane individual who’s given a complex past that explains the plot but seems to have had little emotional impact on the character or his behavior under pressure.

bigTouristcoverIn short: it’s the kind of book I read on a long flight or train journey and give away in the neighborhood book drive.

(For legacy fans — although the above may sound dire, the book is a lot better than Chris Ryan’s original Strike Back novel.)

And: it’s absolutely the kind of book that makes a good movie.

Because: this book is a total page turner. Maybe not in the formulaic way of Dan Brown, where every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, but Steinhauer makes the mysteries that Milo is excavating interesting enough that I had to keep reading to find out the answers. He may not be a stylist but boy, can he ever write a plot. I would say about three quarters of the time I read a thriller, I have solved the mystery by at least three quarters of the way through, but I was surprised by plot developments twice in the last third of this book.

(Admission — perhaps I admire this work a bit more because I have no problem with style or characterization but struggle heavily with plot, myself.)

So — I’m going to read the other two Milo Weaver books because I am curious about how the first one ended. And I can imagine that Olen Steinhauer is more than capable of creating the sort of plot that will keep my attention for ten episodes of Berlin Station this fall. I think that the style “problem” Steinhauer seems to have will be addressed by the director of photography and the editors and the music person — if the ads we’ve seen are any indication. And we know that Richard Armitage will add plenty of emotional depth to the piece, just by looking into the camera and moving his forehead.

I know that Berlin Station is not The Tourist (George Clooney holds the film rights for this book, incidentally), but if the script is written at such a high level of sophistication, if it trusts the viewer to be able to come with it on the same level as The Tourist trusts the reader to unravel a series of complications, and Armitage does his usual thing, I am optimistic that we will have a winner on our hands.

~ by Servetus on May 30, 2016.

10 Responses to “me + olen steinhauer #richardarmitage”

  1. Forehead acting. Made me laugh.


  2. I read the 3 Milo Weaver books (well, listened to them) back- to-back and by the end was really looking forward to Berlin Station. It’s been a pretty long time and a ton of books in between, but I remember liking the style. Particularly how he would drop the reader into a startling scene/situation with no idea how Milo arrived there, then slowly reveal the details. Kind of a reverse cliff-hanger! Instead of ending the chapter with a surprise, he would start the chapter with one. =) I remember wondering if Berlin Station would use the same format, with a lot of flashbacks, etc.


    • Hmm, that’s not what most people mean when they say style, though. What you are talking about is something more like story structure. For most people, style means the way in which someone writes, their use of language.

      I would agree that he does some interesting things with how he lets Milo know things in the first book; however, in my opinion this strategy is not well realized. For instance, the first chapter gives us this apparently suicidal agent. It is, indeed, startling. But he doesn’t really pick up on that theme in the rest of the book.


  3. Sounds promising!
    LOL on: “And we know that Richard Armitage will add plenty of emotional depth to the piece, just by looking into the camera and moving his forehead.”


  4. Well, sounds like he’s good at what a film would need, a good plot and story line and hopefully good dialogue. We’ll let the actor add the depth 😉 And hopefully the director too, so far the visuals and everything we’ve seen and heard about it indicates professionalism and good production values. And they seems to have had enough money to hire top notch technical people. So good hopes here 🙂
    Not that i wouldn’t love A to do a Carre adaptation and one of his characters… I love movies of less words and speed and more puzzling silences and depths and A can do them so so well… But yeah i think quality and good plot and good acting is not something we’ll have to worry about with this one 🙂
    I’ll get round to some of his books too, on the Carre path at the moment 😉
    Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts as it gives us an indication of what to expect.


  5. […] this point, my vague memory of the Tourist novels by Olen Steinhauer pricks my brain — I feel like there was a senior CIA person in those novels who was supposed […]


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