Olen Steinhauer is, as declared by the synopsis, by far the best espionage writer in a generation. And An American Spy is the coup de grâce that ends his trilogy of spy novels wrapped around the secretive Department of Tourism and our star spy, Milo Weaver. Fear not though; with an ending that opens itself to a new series involving a new agency and a changing of the guard, er, characters, I am certain that we haven’t heard the last of Steinhauer, nor have we listened to his last thriller.
An American Spy is a self-contained novel allowing the listener to want for nothing in terms of the prequels. The back-story blends in seamlessly as the Chinese are at it again and the Americans have scores to settle. The storytelling follows each of the main players in turn, unraveling the plot and raising questions as it rolls along. Olen has a gift for creating empathetic characters, which makes it difficult to determine exactly who is the hero, who is the villain, or which of these characters is the “American spy.” These questions grab the reader’s attention and make listening to An American Spy an incredible pleasure.
That said, as a spy novel, An American Spy does contain some of the tacky setup up I feel is almost inherent in the genre, but I applaud Steinhauer for sparing us from an excessive amount. There were times as a listener when I felt bombarded with names, (and at the risk of sounding ignorant or worse) many of them Chinese, and found myself struggling to keep tabs on who was who and what their significance was. This could be a result of the audio format, the fact that I missed the first two books in the series, or my own concentration problems, but that’s where David Pittu flexes his vocals and helped me through the dialogue with various voices attempting to be characters from all over the globe, from China to Sudan and even to Germany.
Ultimately, the flow of the story, its high points, shocking moments, and unexpected twists and turns pull listeners in easily and will undoubtedly bring a smile to their faces. There is a human characteristic to Steinhauer’s storytelling and character development that makes listening to his works, or reading them I imagine, a comforting (while still incredibly thrilling) experience.