The Last Tourist by Olen Steinhauer – A Review

It’s been 8 years since we’ve had a novel dedicated to the trials and tribulations of Milo Weaver, Olen Steinhauer’s former spy turned spymaster. Milo was a member of a secretive CIA department called Tourism, it’s agents tasked with cleaning up messes that the government didn’t want to have to acknowledge. Members of the department, called “tourists” would fan out around the world killing those who got in the way of the good ol’ US of A. At the end of An American Spy, the department had been decimated by its rivals in the Chinese government and put in mothballs. Weaver ended up taking over for his father as the head of yet another secret spy agency, this one called “the library” and run out of the UN by Milo’s father, a former Russian spy. Despite the rather loopy description above when you read the novels Steinhauer manages to keep the concept grounded in reality, mostly succeeding in making the wild leaps feel natural.
The Last Tourist begins from the point of view of a CIA analyst, Abdul Ghalili, sent far away from his desk to Laayoune, Western Sahara to debrief Milo after he’s reached out to the CIA. Ghalili is a fish out of water, quickly out of his element and left at the mercy of people far above him. A fresh point of view turns out to be a good way to reintroduce some of the characters we haven’t seen in years, as well as offer another character besides Milo whose story we’re invested in.
After a surprising cameo appearance in his previous book, The Middleman, in his latest we get a fuller picture of what Milo has been up to over the past few years. His job as head of the Library has been going relatively smoothly and kept him and his family out of the line of fire, getting back to some level of normalcy after the rollercoaster that the first three books put the characters through. In the past, Steinhauer’s best trick has been balancing the spy stuff with more mundane, but relatable, family drama and that continues here. Which would fill you with more dread, assassins chasing after you or being called into the principal’s office for a meeting about your delinquent child? I know my choice.
As the action ramps up we learn that someone has restarted the Department of Tourism and isn’t too keen to have any old staff members wandering around. It puts Milo off his game and as the story plays out we learn there’s a darker reason for Ghalili’s involvement.
Although the human stories are strong, the plot mechanics behind the forces at work seemed apparent from the start and while many of the references to current events made the book of the moment, I worry about how it holds up long term. To Steinhauer’s credit, The Tourist came quite directly out of 9/11 and still stands up as a great thriller, so maybe that won’t be as big of a concern for The Last Tourist.
If you’ve been eagerly awaiting the next appearance of Milo Weaver and his fellow tourists, you won’t be disappointed in this book. As with the best of his previous books, Steinhauer mixes high concept spy antics with family drama and the volatile political moment we seem to be living through in a lively and exciting manner.

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