Nine years ago terrorists hijacked a plane in Vienna. Somehow a rescue attempt staged from the inside went terribly wrong, and everyone onboard was killed.
Members of the CIA stationed in Vienna during that time were witness to this terrible tragedy, gathering intel from their sources during those tense hours, assimilating facts from the ground with a series of texts coming from one of their agents inside the plane. So when it all went wrong, the question had to be asked: Had their agent been compromised, and how?
Two of those agents, Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison, were lovers at the time, and in fact that was the last night they spent together. Until now. That night Celia decided she'd had enough; she left the agency, married, and had children, and is living an ordinary life in the suburbs. Henry is still an analyst, and has traveled to California to see her one more time, to relive the past, maybe, or to put it behind him once and for all.
But neither of them can forget that long-ago question: Had their agent been compromised, and how? And each of them wonders what role tonight's dinner companion might have played in the way things unfolded.
All the Old Knives is Olen Steinhauer's most intimate, most cerebral, and most shocking novel to date - from the New York Times best-selling author deemed by many to be John le Carré's heir apparent.
First a disclosure. I'm a Steinhauer completist. I love Olen Steinhauer. For many reasons. First, he is one of the few, modern spy novelists that seems interested in writing quality espionage fiction, during a period when spy fiction is evolving as the business of espionage shifts. Second, Steinhauer is pushing, incrementally, towards the long shadow of le Carré. With some novels Steinhauer seems almost a breath away from le Carré. He isn't there yet, but he is close with 'All the Old Knives', and he is far closer than most of his peers.
Spy fiction if it is unserious deals with violence, mystery, sex and an almost pornographic, hyper-nationalism. Great spy fiction deals with history, memory, loss, ambiguity, mistakes, regret, and deception. Steinhauer has written what can best be explained as a locked room spy mystery. It is at heart an interrogation that is highlighted with various forms of flashback. It is the intersection of two lives, two loves, and one dark, shared past, finally unlocked in a Carmel-by-the-Sea restaurant.
This is a short book, but one that moves with a measured precision. This isn't a beach read. It is a book to read while you are waiting in a hospital to see if the lump is benign. A book to read while you wait for your spouse to return from a dangerous drive. It is a book that makes no easy heroes and leaves the final curtain cracked just a bit.
34 of 36 people found this review helpful
I usually enjoy anything Steinhauer does and I assume this was a sort of concept novel. While it was an interesting way to build the story, one table, two people and dual-dueling narrators didn't get there for me.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
All the Old Knives takes place largely over a dinner with the two main characters reviewing a horrible incident they shared. Each provides his or her version, and Stenhauer eventually ties the two viewpoints together.
The plot is not believable, nor is the motive for the key event in the book. When it ended, abruptly, I laughed out loud at the absurdity of the book.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
An espionage novel that takes places almost completely in hindsight.
Two former partners (and lovers) meet to discuss a still-open case from many years ago. One agent is actively investigating the case still, the other retired to avoid thinking about it.
It was the case of a double-agent who was never caught, and who was indirectly responsible for the hostage and bombing of an airplane, and the deaths of the innocent people aboard. Who was the double agent? Did he discover the mole planted aboard the airplane? How were certain sensitive facts found out causing the tragedy?
It is a slow burn, so don't expect a page turner.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
I almost didn't download this because I thought it would be impossible to craft anything truly engrossing in such a short time. The truth is that it didn't feel like a novel. As I suspected, too short. However, if viewed as a novella (or a long short story), it was outstanding. Great story. Delivered in layers (the 'present time' is less than a day, the flashbacks recount a time seven years earlier). Excellent performances.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
This is an unusual Spy story set in the present and the past. It's all about the dinner conversation and I must say it is a clever, well written story and I quite enjoyed it, but I don't think I'll be going for another spy book.
The story is told from each others' point of view therefore each narrator does have to perform both voices which is a bit of a novelty. Unfortunately at about three hours in the sound quality deteriorated for a few minutes, this always spoils a listening experience.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I am a fan of the author but was very disappointed by this book. The structure of telling the whole story through to people over dinner is boring and very limiting.
The tale of former lovers/spies unfolds very slowly and deliberately. Far too much so. This is really a short story that failed to be edited down from its novella length. The story is not exactly predictable, and my prediction was wrong but I think might have been better, but you pretty much know what's going to happen. I found myself a bit annoyed at the end.
This was all the more surprising because I had found Steinhauer's Milo Weaver series quite good. Ah well. Can't all be winners.
I haven't read an Olen Steinhauer book I haven't liked. this is a short novella, 5 hours, intriguing story where the facts come slowly and deliciously...good to the very end.
I like Olen Steinhauer novels and I was really looking forward to this book, but it does not live up to its billing. I appreciate that he was trying to keep the suspense going by not revealing what was actually happening until the end, but what he ended up doing was making it so choppy and disconnected that it was hard to make heads or tails of what was actually happening. Maybe its easier to read in print, but as an audiobook this was a swing and a miss.