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Saturday, December 22, 2018

All the Old Knives (2015) by Alan Steinhauer

Book Review
All the Old Knives (2015)
 by Olen Steinhauer

  The major bottle neck I'm facing in my book intake right now is the 15 book limit that the Los Angeles Public Library system places on holds for Ebooks and Audiobooks.  Waits of 2 to 3 months for new and popular existing releases are common.  I wouldn't be shocked to wait six months for a particularly popular title.   The problem is especially acute for Audiobooks and so inevitably I'm going to forced to expand my reading in genre fiction.  The relevant genres would be crime fiction, science fiction/fantasy and spy stories.   All three genres have spawned canonical authors in recent decades, and detective fiction seems to have particularly influence non-genre literary fiction.  You really can't throw a rock without reading a contemporary work of literary fiction that lacks at least a hint of detective fiction in terms of theme, style or characterization.

  So here I am reading a 2015 novel by the intriguing but still solidly genre bound spy fiction writer Olen Steinhauer.   The benefit of reading genre fiction is that it tends to sell well, and this makes it readily available.  For example, no wait to borrow the Audiobook version from the library (5 of 7 copies available!)   Another benefit of reading genre fiction is that it is not challenging.  The negatives are that genre fiction is, by definition formulaic, and- this is particular to spy novels- it is incredibly white. White and well educated- is there any spy novel in existence that does not have a well educated, white, protagonist?

   That certainly isn't the case for detective fiction, and certainly not the case for science fiction/fantasy, both of which have active minority communities of artists and audiences.   All the Old Knives scores a zero on the diversity meter, but Steinhauer is a cleverer-than-most writer, and the format of All the Old Knives: Two old lovers meet in a restaurant in Carmel-by-the-sea (No one calls it that in California) two discuss the murder of a plane full of passengers by hijackers, an event which happened when both of them were stationed at the Vienna station of the CIA.

   As it turns out, there was a mole feeding information to the terrorists on the plane and the book sets out reveal who done it and why.  Personally, I wasn't surprised by any event on this book, up to and including the plot twists.  I also found the motivation of the mole lacking.  Not really something to discuss without spoiling the third act, but I didn't buy it one bit.   There's a movie version in development.  Interested to see how that turns out.


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