After that disclaimer Milo is recovering in New York City from his stomach wound suffered in The Nearest Exit and looking forward to his future. With the destruction of The Tourists network he is unemployed. After years of roaming the world he is ready for routine. He has had enough of killing and Bzyantine spy plots. He wants to live a normal life with his wife, Tina, and daughter, Stephanie.
Unfortunately, his friend and former director of The Tourists, Alan Drummond, cannot abide that his department has disappeared with the deaths of 33 Tourists a mere 60 days after he took over. A man of high self esteem, even arrogant, Drummond cannot accept he presided over the catastrophe. He thirsts for revenge against Xin Zhu, the Communist Chinese intelligence officer who masterminded the plot to eliminate The Tourists.
Milo can live with Xin Zhu's actions. While they almost caused his death and killed colleagues Milo, a field operative, understands Xin Zhu was better at carrying out his plans than the Americans who had equally plotted against him. Drummond, the administrator, has lost his objectivity and is consumed by hate.
Drummond tries and fails to enlist Milo in his quest to exact vengeance on Xin Zhu. After Milo refuses Drummond forces Milo to take part by using an old alias of Milo when Drummond disappears in England.
As an angry Milo reaches out to past intelligence contacts he must deal with the security of his family. Unlike most spy novels Milo and Drummond are married and Milo has a child. Before he ventures back into the intelligence world Milo must know his family is protected. The existence of families for all the major characters adds tension and credibility to the plot.
It is such a swirling combination of intelligence agencies that Milo struggles to make sense of what each of them is doing with regard to Drummond.
In America the CIA may or may not have re-activated The Tourist department. The Homeland Security Department is pursuing its own aims.
Xin Zhu continues his own schemes. He is not passively waiting for Drummond to attack him.
Milo's father, Yvegeny Primakov continues to run a secret spy agency within the United Nations.
In Germany, Erika Schwartz, has been promoted to a top position in German security services.
Lastly, Drummond has cobbled together a team of the surviving Tourists.
Steinhauer is an excellent craftsman driving the story forward amidst all the competing interests while not making it too complex to follow for the reader.
Steinhauer is a rare writer to not demonize opposing spymasters and their agents. They are real people.
The book is an evocation of the intelligence world as "The Great Game" set out in Rudyard Kipling's classic, Kim.
The book raises the morality behind killing in the intelligence world. Are plans to kill for personal motives justified? Is it worse to kill agents of an avowed enemy for personal rather than state reasons? What happens to intelligence communities when killing becomes personal? It is a frightening concept to have intelligence masters unleashing killers to achieve personal goals.
Going personal confounds the intelligence world. Operatives and agencies understand losses in pursuing goals on behalf of their countries but if the killing is personal lives are being taken arbitrarily.
We are a long way from the Cold War simplicity of Democracy versus Communism. We live in a far murkier world. I was reminded of Alan Furst's great pre-WW II spy novels where there are multiple European agencies operating in the shadows.
Steinhauer creates great characters and strong plots. I look forward to his next book. (Feb. 22/13)
****Links to my reviews of the first two books in the series are (2009) - The Tourist; (2010) - The Nearest Exit.