Monday, May 4, 2015

Book Review: All the Old Knives, by Olen Steinhauer

There comes a time in a writer's life where he really hits his stride, and that time is right now for Olen Steinhauer. You can tell a book is written well when the first thing you do upon finishing it is go back to the beginning, which is precisely what I did when I finished Steinhauer's latest novel, All the Old Knives. Having just read the end, I wanted to enjoy again the beginning; the way Steinhauer sets up the end, (but without giving it away); the way he ratchets up the suspense from the word Go; the way he immerses you into the story in the first few pages. I will say it again: All the Old Knives is written by a writer at the top of his craft.

All the Old Knives is unlike any other book you've read, as the entire book takes place during the course of a dinner shared by two old friends. It is a constraining story structure for sure, or would be if not for Olenhauer's skill, his ability to roam freely despite the limits. One gets the feeling he set out to challenge himself, to see if he could bring his writing up to another level by imposing limits and then transcending them. In any case, it is the reader who wins, who gets to reap the profits of Steinhauer 's finest work to date.

If you have read any of the author's earlier works, The Tourist series in particular, you will know that Steinhauer paints with a palette filled only with shades of grey. There are no good guys in Steinhauer's world, only guys (and gals) good and bad at the same time, spurred on by similar--if opposing--motivations. Realistic characters do result from this monochromatic scheme, but if I had to find a criticism, it would be that they are overly realistic and not as sympathetically drawn as they might be.

In All the Old Knives, Steinhauer finds a better balance. The flaws are there, for sure, in these so much less than perfect people he writes about, but this time you can feel for them on a more visceral level. And as always Steinhauer keeps you guessing until the very last paragraph. But All the Old Knives begins and ends with the writing, Steinhauer's cerebral prose that waxes poetic and flows easily. If you are looking for a book that keeps your eyes glued to the pages from start to finish, pick up a copy of All the Old Knives. You'll be a Steinhauer fan before the first chapter ends.

Here are a few other reviews of All the Old Knives:
New York Times
Washington Post


Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Consthe literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of two tribes on Triberr, The Big Thrill and Fiction Writers. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at