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All the Old Knives

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  4,725 ratings  ·  705 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, 294 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by Minotaur Books
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Derek Dewitt Yeah, that's right - those were nightmares of hers....…moreYeah, that's right - those were nightmares of hers....(less)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Oct 30, 2014 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
Lewis Weinstein
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a terrific spy story told from a very unusual perspective ... a man and a woman are having dinner ... both were with the CIA in Vienna 5 years before (the man is still CIA, the woman is not, maybe) when a horrendous terrorist incident took place ... their dinner is no accident, nor is it a social event, although the two were lovers in Vienna ... each one suspects the other of being the source to the terrorists and uses the conversation to try to confirm or deny that belief ... Steinhauer ...more
Manuel Antão
Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

They Do Things Differently There: "All the Old Knives" by Olen Steinhauer

“One part of my history is gone. That gaggle of friends has disappeared. This collection of embarrassing memories can no longer be discovered by someone going through my stuff. [ ] It was always about the future. What’s that they say about the past?” That it’s another country?”

As a reader I would say, of course, people are essentially the same, doesn’t matter whe
Jun 30, 2015 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
May 24, 2018 rated it liked it
More novella than novel, Steinhauer's All the Old Knives is one of those miniature offerings that barely fits in the palm of your hand. In keeping with its toy-like presentation, the author admits this project was somewhat of a lark - a story that came to him upon encountering a Masterpiece Theater production starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson in which all the action took place at a restaurant table. Could he produce an espionage novel employing the same restriction? This is his attempt.

Barbara K
I've had this book on my shelf for a couple of years, picked up from a sale table somewhere. Last week I came across a glowing GR review from someone whose tastes it spy fiction I trust and decided it didn't need to wait any longer.

This truly is a small jewel of a book, the length just long enough to contain all the elements of a tense thriller - where nothing much happens in real time. A meeting in Carmel recounting events in Vienna 5 years before. An examination of love and betrayal set within
Laurie Anderson
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
A bit baffled by this one, but it may be a book that is better read with the eyes, and I read it with my ears. Some books don’t work quite as well in audio.
Mar 13, 2015 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
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Soon to be a major motion picture, starring Michelle Williams and Christopher Pine. I predict that it will be a good one and I'm looking forward to the tub of popcorn and the big Diet Pepsi.

The upshot: Two "exes", Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison, meet up for a restaurant dinner in Carmel-by-the-Sea, on California's picturesque central coast. But this is no ordinary "Hey, how has life been treating ya?" reunion dinner: Henry is an active CIA agent and Celia is an ex-CIA agent. The purpose of the
Feb 18, 2015 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. ...more
Mal Warwick
Apr 17, 2015 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
Oct 24, 2014 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
Feb 28, 2015 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;
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
aPriL does feral sometimes
Apr 15, 2015 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)
Feb 23, 2015 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
J. Kent Messum
A single interrogation scene stretched into the length of a short novel... that sums up my overall feelings on 'All The Old Knives'. Sure, it had flashbacks to flesh things out, but in a better book, written by a better writer, this would merely be part of a much bigger and more intriguing story.

Olen has been hailed by too many people as “the next John Le Carre”. This is not true, or even remotely accurate. The pace of the novel never moves faster than a brisk walk, and so much of it boils down
Dec 20, 2014 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 she th
Apr 11, 2015 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
Left Coast Justin
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When I read Steinhauer's first book, 'The Tourist,' I wrote: "Inside this book is a smaller, better book struggling to get out."

'All the Old Knives' is that shorter, better book. And it's something to behold.

There's all sorts of things going on in this book, but what I'm left with is a masterful description of the struggle that any romantically-involved couple faces, along with the struggles of memory vs. current reality, desire vs. practicality and a few others. I'm so glad I read this before b
Cherise Wolas
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very intriguing spy-espionage tale. Set over a dinner table when two former lovers, one still a spy, the other not, meet in Carmel-by-the-Sea, to discuss the 5-year old highjacking of a plane in Austria, a case they were both involved in. I've loved watching Berlin Station, created by Steinhauer, and this is the first book of his I've read, but now I'd like to read them all. ...more
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
Dec 27, 2014 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
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
Davey Reads
Sep 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I give this 3.5 stars. Henry and Celia are ex-lovers who met while working for the CIA, but now Celia is married with children and living the idyllic California life in Carmel by-the-sea. Henry needs to pay her a visit to tidy up loose ends years after an event that unraveled them from one another, and for Celia it seems, from her career as a spy. Unfortunately for them both, a horrific terrorist incident occurs in western Europe, on their watch, alters both their lives forever. Thus the story i ...more
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, read-2017
This is one of those rare novels that remain just as impossible to put down upon re-reading as they were the first time around. The knowledge of what it's all leading up to in the end allows the reader to truly fully appreciate all the subtlety and cleverness woven into this quietly complex espionage tale. Olen Steinhauer has yet to write a book that doesn't have me absolutely engrossed and glued to the page, but this one is definitely one of my favourites among his works to date.

Review fom 7 No
Turns out Olen Steinhauer was born in Baltimore. Booksellers and libraries love to show off our hometown writers, or even people who just happened to be born here. (Everyone leaves if they can, but Steinhauer didn't even stay long enough to grow up here.)

This one was slightly disappointing because I am rather desperate to find someone to fill the modern role of all the great Cold War espionage writers I love. It mostly takes place in the present at a table over dinner, with a bunch of flashbacks
Mar 13, 2015 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
Sep 22, 2014 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. ...more
Robert French
Jul 08, 2016 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. ...more
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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

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