It is pretty obvious by the lack of activity around here that Crime Fiction and The Hungry Detective are not seeing eye to eye. The reasons are many, but as I mentioned in my Fall Preview there is nothing worse than a blogger complaining about their own complacency. Suffice to say the blame lies squarely with me, but it does not help that Crime Fiction seems hellbent on being mediocre right now. A couple weeks ago I picked up the last Easy Rawlins book, BLONDE FAITH, with the hopes that through sheer nostalgia I could rekindle the love affair. BLONDE FAITH is a very good book, but sadly I just did not feel it.
All of which makes writing that THE NEAREST EXIT is undoubtedly the best thing I've to read this year all the more thrilling. I know that it should not be a great surprise. Mr. Steinhauer's first in this series was THE TOURIST. I loved that book. THE NEAREST EXIT is fantastic and it ascends to something greater. It blows away all of the paint by numbers plotting and story telling I have read through the majority of this year.
THE NEAREST EXIT sees the return of Milo Weaver. Milo is a spy on good days and a government bag man on the bad ones. Since the catastrophes of THE TOURIST, Milo has found his way back into the world of Tourism, CIA style. He travels untethered from European city to European city in an attempt to get back into the good graces of his new CIA handlers. On the verge of being back in the fold he is asked to carry out an especially gruesome task. He accepts the task for the test he knows it is. Despite his best efforts to appeal to the better angels of his nature, the operation goes pear shaped. Strung up by German Intelligence operatives, Milo begins to piece together the wide ranging plan of a disaffected Chinese General bent on the destruction of the Central Intelligence Agency.
At least I think that is what happens. Much to the books credit, and much to its favor the levels of obfuscation, by everyone involved cloud every word, every moment, and every page. One could easily be put off by Mr. Steinhauer's jungle of moral and narrative complexity. He challenges you at every turn, and on some level I began to accept that I am not always going to understand what is going on. Mr. Steinhauer's prose is the guiding support to see in the dark as he leads you down the rabbit hole blindfolded. By the end, much like Milo, you come out bewildered and slightly in awe of the clockwork precision of your journey. Flat out, this is the best book 2010.