Walter Cohen's Reviews > The Nearest Exit

The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer
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's review
Feb 27, 2011

really liked it

On it's face, an awfully good read. The story line is complex. The writing is equal to the story. And then there are the moral and political ins and outs. Not a straightforward international thriller.

All that said: it was Alyosha (Brothers Karamozov), among others, who asked (something like) if you could achieve the just world on taking the life of one innocent child would you do it. That's the central theme of this book. The child is murdered (and you learn that early) in service, you think, to some higher good. But just wait. The author makes you both question the meaning of "just", because in the end internationally all we have is a moral universe in which we keep one step ahead of those who would do us harm, makes you confront the fact that those who keep us "safe" are numb, amoral mechanics, and finally makes you twist over the fact that much of this is personal and completely disassociated from any sense of the good or the just. The challenge of being human given the ooze of political, economic and moral dysfunction that threaten to overwhelm truly is a virtual lost cause.

The main character, Milo Weaver, "weaves" his way through personal and professional labyrinths using the best moral compass he can filtered by lying, dexedrine, impersonations, beating "collateral damage" with a pipe. We can only hope that he will make them all pay, and pay big time, for what they've done. No child, no family, is worth the "just" world. Why? because it's an abstraction, an illusion. Being human is all we have in the end.
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