By Olen Steinhauer, Minotaur Books, 400 pages

Before picking up a copy of the new thriller by Olen Steinhauer, it is advisable to have read the first two books in his Milo Weaver series. Otherwise, there’s a good chance newbie readers will be shaking their heads throughout the opening pages of An American Spy.

Steinhauer’s latest requires attention and patience. His hero, Weaver, is still recovering from a gunshot to the abdomen when his former boss, Alan Drummond, disappears. Drummond blames himself for the deaths of thirty-three of his field agents, known as “tourists.” The real culprit is a rogue Chinese agent by the name of Xin Zhu who believes he is avenging the death of his only son.

Has Drummond gone underground to kill Zhu with hopes of drawing Weaver into his scheme? Is Xin Zhu still determined to kill Weaver using the latter’s wife and daughter as bait? And how do Weaver’s father and estranged half-sister, Alexandra, figure into the picture?

These are a lot of balls to juggle. Unlike the first two books in the series – “The Tourist” and “The Nearest Exit” – this latest entry sacrifices cohesion and precision for the gripping, taunt story line Steinhauer is known for. Loyal fans may be disappointed with //An American Spy//. New readers will simply be confused.

Reviewed by Ellison G. Weist