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All the Old Knives

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  3,099 Ratings  ·  521 Reviews
Six years ago in Vienna, terrorists took over a hundred hostages, and the rescue attempt went terribly wrong. The CIA's Vienna station was witness to this tragedy, gathering intel from its sources during those tense hours, assimilating facts from the ground and from an agent on the inside. So when it all went wrong, the question had to be asked: Had their agent been compro ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by Minotaur Books
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Jan 21, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
“Perhaps it’s only those who don’t know us at all who are able to see us most clearly.”
― Olen Steinhauer, All the Old Knives


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 som
Aug 13, 2015 Paul rated it really liked it
All The Old Knives – An Interesting Spy Story

Olen Steinhauer is often compared to John Le Carre with his writing, and he is certainly a master of writing Spy Thrillers and has a prodigious output which is not comparable to many writers. All The Old Knives is a small but punchy spy thriller that is an engagingly well written book without any padding.

All The Old Knives Olen Steinhauer has a come up with a plot and a setting in which is unusual in that all the action takes place around a dining tab
Mar 13, 2015 Nancy rated it really liked it
Olen Steinhauer signals what he's up to at the very beginning of his clever All the Old Knives (St. Martins/Minotaur Books, paperback ARC) when CIA agent Henry Pelham discusses the state of contemporary spy fiction with a fellow airline passenger. She's reading an old Len Deighton. "They just don't make stories like this anymore. ... You knew who the bad guys were back then.''

Actually, they do still write traditional spy novels -- see Joseph Kanon, above -- and Steinhauer's new book isn't as dif
Feb 20, 2015 Lori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a novel that only took a couple of hours to read it certainly delivered a punch. I'm not a fan of espionage books so in the beginning I wasn't sure this was going to be for me, but about a 1/4 of the way in I was hooked. Really enjoyed.
Mal Warwick
Apr 17, 2015 Mal Warwick rated it really liked it
Just try to dream up a story linking a terrorist hijacking in Vienna and the CIA with two former lovers at dinner in a gourmet restaurant in Carmel, California. Give up? Well, it’s been done.

This curious little book — a novella, really — emerged from the author’s long-standing desire to write a book centered on two people at dinner. I don’t know about you, but I’m always suspicious (and often disdainful) about fiction that’s meant to execute someone’s idea about writing style or structure. This
Mar 12, 2015 Col rated it it was amazing
Shelves: s, 2015
Celia used to lie for a living. Henry still does. Can they ever trust each other? Nine years ago, Henry and Celia were lovers and colleagues, both working for the CIA station in Vienna. Until terrorists hijacked a plane at the airport, a rescue attempt, staged from the inside, went terribly wrong and everyone on board was killed. That night has continued to haunt all of those involved; for Henry and Celia, it brought to an end their relationship. Celia decided she'd had enough;
Oct 02, 2015 Betty rated it it was ok
I definitely had a problem getting through this book even though it is less than 300 pages. The plot line just did not work for me.

Two former spies, once romantically involved, meet over dinner in Carmel, California. Both are still bothered by a terrorist attack several years previously. One of them wants to finally know the truth about the tragedy on which terrorists took over a commercial airliner and used the children onboard as pawns.

The book is slow paced and takes place over only one even
Jenny (Reading Envy)
As we were heading off on vacation, my husband asked me to "pick" an audiobook to listen to. I decided to find a spy novel since some of the television we will both watch has to do with spies. I knew of Olen Steinhauer after my book club read The Cairo Affair, and so I picked the shortest of his novels that hadn't been already turned into a film.

This takes place almost entirely in a restaurant during a conversation two former lovers are having about a 2006 terrorist situation in the Vienna airp
May 12, 2015 Trish rated it liked it
Steinhauer is a capable author and is not to be blamed, I do not think, for the fact that midway through this cynical story about retired spies closing a case once and for all that I just got really sick of hearing, thinking, caring about spies and their circuitous world. I have begun to think, ever since reading Kai Bird's The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, that we should close the spy agencies and be done with the whole ridiculous deal of trying to find out secrets through a gove ...more
Dec 20, 2014 Linda rated it really liked it
This book was psychological thriller from the get go. Two agents stationed in Austria deal with the high jacking of an airliner with over 100 innocents on board. The terrorists threaten to kill all on board if their demands are not met. Being CIA agents, both Henry & Ceila, work their sources to try and find an life saving solution. Little do they know that there is a traitor in their mist and the conclusion of this terrorist act haunts all involved for years to come.

Henry loves Ceila and sh
Apr 15, 2015 Ann rated it really liked it
Clever, clever, clever - a very quiet buildup and a huge wallop of a punch at the end - to the point that I had to go back and 're-listen' (audiobook) to glean clues I must have missed first time around. An Amazon 'best book of the month, March 2015'. A short novel, masquerading as a quiet 'what's the point' book at the beginning, and then you have to wake up and pay attention. The story is about two CIA operatives in Vienna in 2006 (one now retired) - however the total scene takes place in one ...more
Tempo de Ler
Depois de dois meses a trabalhar na investigação Frankler, desencadeada pela revelação de um prisioneiro capturado no Afeganistão de que uma catástrofe no aeroporto de Viena em 2006 terá tido o auxílio de alguém da Embaixada Americana, Henry regressa aos Estados Unidos para interrogar Celia, por quem ainda nutre sentimentos.

Acompanhei esta história de traições, mentiras e segredos com grande interesse. Enquanto Celia reconstruiu a sua vida, casando e tendo filhos, a vida de Henry parece ter esta
aPriL does feral sometimes
Apr 18, 2015 aPriL does feral sometimes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy
Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison once worked in Vienna, Austria in 2006. They are CIA. They were lovers.

Then, Ilyas Shishani, a Chechen radical who had become an Islamic terrorist, directed the hijacking of an Viennese airplane, although he was not onboard. The terrorists threatened to kill passengers if what they wanted didn't happen. They expected the immediate release of some of their friends in German prisons. (view spoiler)
I confess I was not familiar with Olen Steinhauer's work, but it seems he has authored a number of novels of international intrigue that have been highly acclaimed. From what I have learned of his writing, he specializes in elaborate, very intricate plots which keep the reader guessing right up until the end. All the Old Knives continues that tradition.

This is the story of two old C.I.A. colleagues and lovers, Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison (now Favreau). They were working together in Vienna in
Hilary Kotecki
Jan 26, 2015 Hilary Kotecki rated it really liked it
I haven't read The Dinner (Herman Koch), but from descriptions given to me by others, Olen Steinhauer's newest book is The Dinner meets James Bond.

Years before, Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison were CIA operatives working in Vienna when a terrorist attack left a CIA operative dead - sold out, by someone with inside connections to the terrorists. Henry, on the twilight side of his career, is trying to wrap up the loose ends, and meets with his former lover, Celia, in order to question her. What r
Apr 12, 2016 Andrew rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
When I think of fiction categories outside of my comfort zone, after Romances About Fishing I'd put the Spy Novel genre near the top of my list. Maybe it's an assumption, but for some reason it's deep-rooted: there's just no way I'll understand what the hell's going on.

This one, I did understand. Interesting characters, nice twists, great relationships between characters, snappy dialogue. Not in any way dense or difficult. Maybe, after all, I can try more of this kind of thing.
Jun 04, 2015 Steven rated it it was amazing
I haven't enjoyed the dinner for two format very much the other times I have read books where it was used. I think I enjoyed this because of the evenness of the battle between Henry and Celia with the winner making the proverbial three point basket with two seconds left. Once again terrific characterization and real human emotions characterize this story. No James Bond this time.
Tucker Elliot
Apr 07, 2015 Tucker Elliot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first time reading Olen Steinhauer. ALL THE OLD KNIVES is incredibly well written and I plan to read some of the author's previous work as a result.

The dialogue and narrative prose are sparse, sharp and witty. The characters are memorable and interesting. The plot and pacing are also excellent. It centers around a terrorist incident at the airport in Vienna, Austria. Five years after the fact, a CIA agent meets his former lover -- who is also former CIA -- for dinner to interview her
A very enjoyable and focused spy novel that Olen Steinhauer undertook as a challenge to himself following a viewing a dramatization of a poem -- "The Song of Lunch" by Christopher Reid. Could he, Steinhauer wondered, construct a spy novel that shared a setting and a premise? The answer is: sort of.

Instead of a reunion of ex-lovers over lunch, "All the Old Knives" centers on a dinner shared between old paramours, one a former spy and the other still active. And, while their meal at an out-of-seas
Jan 15, 2015 Patty rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 08, 2015 Bob rated it liked it
A Satisfying Read But Nothing Special!

I have been a fan of Olen Steinhauer since his first book. Having now finished his newest book, All The Old Knives, my overall feeling is that it is a satisfying, entertaining read but not one I'd recommend you rush out to read. This is because while there was nothing I disliked about it, there was also nothing about it that made me feel that it stands out from other books in the spy novel genre. As a matter of fact, although the two principal characters in
Jaffa Kintigh
Apr 16, 2015 Jaffa Kintigh rated it really liked it
This psychological spy thriller twists and turns as Vienna-based CIA operative Henry confronts former CIA analyst Celia six years after a disastrous hijacking and hostage negotiation with terrorists led to 120 civilian deaths. The exploration of the events and timelines around the botched job is complicated by implications of a mole, a coworker's suicide, Celia's resignation from the CIA and the break up of Henry and Celia's sexual relationship all in the days and months surrounding the incident ...more
Mar 13, 2015 Deb rated it it was amazing
I'm not a reader of 'spy' fiction, as a rule. I like a good mystery and a good thriller. So when I saw this novel described as a spy novel, I almost did not pick it up. What a mistake that would have been.
Set in a restaurant, all the action takes place in flash-backs. But rather than that making it a slow read, in this author's hands, it has a sharp sense of place and immediacy.
It's a very quick read. It's easy (and probably best) to finish it in one sitting - let the momentum of this story car
May 30, 2015 Betty rated it really liked it
A spy novel that has it all: clever writing, a fast pace, and an intricate plot plus the entire story is told during a dinner date and with the aid of a few flashbacks. Henry Pelham works for the CIA in Vienna. Celia is an ex-spy, now a wife and mother. Henry and Celia used to work together and used to be lovers. Now they are meeting for dinner in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California because some new information has come to light concerning a disastrous hijacking that happened when they were colleagues ...more
Sep 28, 2015 Jo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Henry works for the CIA from the embassy in Vienna. Celia used to work with him, sharing an office and his bed. Now they're meeting again after five years of not being in touch to go over who's to blame for the deaths of innocents in a terrorist attack. This was great, surprisingly engaging with a fantastic twist at the end.
Henry C.
Apr 20, 2015 Henry C. rated it really liked it
A wicked, movie-worthy spy novel.

A pair of ex lovers arrive to dinner in Carmel-by-the-Sea for a reunion. Normal enough. But their backstory -- as CIA operatives in Vienna, means this isn't a normal get together. Both are haunted by an terrorism incident that went badly wrong.

As this swift novel uncoils, we learn more about the incident and more about the protagonists. It becomes increasingly clear that not all is at seems.

Steinhauer is a worth heir to the John Le Carre mantle of riveting, ps
Robert French
Jul 28, 2016 Robert French marked it as abandoned
Although a fan of Olen Steinhauer, I simply could not get involved with All the Old Knives. Perhaps it is better as a film, but then I rarely have time to watch movies.
Christine Zibas
Feb 14, 2016 Christine Zibas rated it it was amazing
Master storyteller Olen Steinhauer brings to life the now-ended relationship between two old spies, who served together in Vienna when a planeload of passengers were killed by a fundamentalist Islamic group. Henry Pellham, who is tasked with following up on an internal report for the CIA years later, comes to visit his old lover, Celia Harrison, for her side of the story for his report.

But does Henry really want Celia's side? Or has he already made up his mind before he arrives and merely wants
Gloria Feit
Oct 25, 2015 Gloria Feit rated it really liked it
One day in English Comp, the professor walked in and told our class to write a story solely in dialogue. It was a devilish assignment and put us all to the task. This novel reminds me of that day. The author started out to write an espionage mystery solely within the confines of a lunch between two persons. In a way he succeeds, but not without a little cheating by way of breaks for background and descriptions. Of course, we in our college class could not do that since such material had to come ...more
May 23, 2015 Clint rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book and couldn't put it down. I actually finished it in just two days. It was my first time reading an Olen Stenhauer novel and I was really impressed. When reading this book, it reminded me a lot of the spy novels by John Le Carre. The plot was great and even though I figured out a lot of it early on, it still had a couple of twists and turns at the end that I didn't see coming. I will be reading more of Steinhauer's novels.
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Around the Year i...: All the Old Knives, by Olen Steinhauer 1 13 Mar 11, 2016 05:23PM  
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  • Stranglehold (Detective Greene, #4)
  • Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash, #2)
  • Unmanned
  • Too Bad to Die: A Novel
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  • Red Gold (Night Soldiers, #5)
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  • Burrows
Olen Steinhauer grew up in Virginia, and has since lived in Georgia, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Massachusetts, and New York. Outside the US, he's lived in Croatia (when it was called Yugoslavia), the Czech Republic and Italy. He also spent a year in Romania on a Fulbright grant, an experience that helped inspire his first five books. He now lives in Hungary with his wife and dau ...more
More about Olen Steinhauer...

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“Perhaps it’s only those who don’t know us at all who are able to see us most clearly.” 2 likes
“Things happen. The only thing that matters is how we deal with the now. Either we face the difficult moral decisions with ever-stronger responses, or we do not. This is what separates the mensch from the asshole. Full stop.” 2 likes
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