Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Briefly: Books

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Briefly: Books

Article excerpt

As compiled by editors of the International Herald Tribune.

An American Spy

By Olen Steinhauer. 386 pages. Minotaur Books. $25.99; Corvus. Pounds 16.99. Mr. Steinhauer is a spy novelist who refuses to make it easy for his readers, but rewards them richly in the end. He drops the reader, and his characters, into situations of mind- bending complexity and forces them to work things out for themselves. In this clever, sometimes baffling book, it's never quite clear who is manipulating whom, and which side is up. In his novels "The Tourist" and "The Nearest Exit," Mr. Steinhauer introduced the Department of Tourism, a small, ruthless black-ops cell within the C.I.A. responsible for doing its dirtiest work. At the start of "An American Spy," the cell has been wiped out and the former head of the department is determined to recruit Milo Weaver, one of the few surviving Tourists and the dour, damaged hero of Mr. Steinhauer's two previous books to exact revenge. Mr. Steinhauer is more interested in twists of plot than turns of phrase, but the very bluntness of his writing adds to its impact. Where his fiction succeeds masterfully is in the portrayal of one reality from different, deceptive angles, transferring his characters' indecision and uncertainty to the page.

Enemies

A History of the FBI. By Tim Weiner. Illustrated. 537 pages. Random House, $30; Allen Lane, Pounds 25. Presidential hubris, Mr. Weiner makes clear in his important and disturbing book, bears much of the blame for the worst violations of American freedoms in this century. The hard truth is that most presidents since Woodrow Wilson have been less intimidated by the F.B.I. than seduced by it. Under the rubric of protecting the nation, they secretly authorized the F.B.I. to open mail, infiltrate political parties, tap phones, perform "black bag" break-ins and draw up vast lists of Americans eligible for "custodial detention" during a crisis. …

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