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Book Review: A Most Wanted Man, by John le Carré

A typical le Carré thriller taking on the "War on Terror," in which every side has two more sides and good guys and bad guys are all shades of gray.

A Most Wanted Man

Scribner, 2008, 323 pages

A half-starved young Russian man in a long black overcoat is smuggled into Hamburg at dead of night. He has an improbable amount of cash secreted in a purse around his neck. He is a devout Muslim. Or is he? He says his name is Issa.

Annabel, an idealistic young German civil rights lawyer, determines to save Issa from deportation. Soon her client's survival becomes more important to her than her own career -- or safety. In pursuit of Issa's mysterious past, she confronts the incongruous Tommy Brue, the sixty-year-old scion of Brue Frères, a failing British bank based in Hamburg.

Annabel, Issa and Brue form an unlikely alliance -- and a triangle of impossible loves is born. Meanwhile, scenting a sure kill in the "War on Terror," the rival spies of Germany, England and America converge upon the innocents.

Thrilling, compassionate, peopled with characters the reader never wants to let go, A Most Wanted Man is a work of deep humanity and uncommon relevance to our times.

Warning: Unlike most of my reviews, this one has some spoilers.

Le Carré grinds an axe skillfully. SPOILER WARNING!Collapse )

Verdict: There's a bit of polemicism in this book, but everything John le Carré writes is good and complicated and compelling. A Most Wanted Man is only secondarily a spy thriller, as the spies are mostly in the background, with ordinary civilians being the main characters and the War On Terror being the shadow looming over the plot. A good read for anyone who likes grubby, believable, morally compromised protagonists.

Also by John le Carré: My reviews of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Mission Song.

My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: The Mission Song, by John le Carré

A very British African working for Queen and Country finds out that politics is dirty on every continent.

Little, Brown and Company, 2006, 352 pages

Hailed everywhere as a masterpiece of suspense, John le Carré's return to Africa is the story of Bruno Salvador (aka Salvo), the 25-year-old orphaned love child of an Irish missionary and a Congolese woman. Quickly rising to the top of his profession as an interpreter, Salvo is dispatched by British Intelligence to a top-secret meeting between Western financiers and East Congolese warlords, where he hears things not meant for his ears - and is forced to interpret matters never intended for his reawoken African conscience. By turns thriller, love story, and comic allegory of our times, THE MISSION SONG recounts Salvo's heroically naïve journey out of the dark of Western hypocrisy and into the heart of lightness.

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap, especially in the Congo.Collapse )

Verdict: A great contemporary espionage/political thriller with complex, conflicted characters and deeply resonating themes. The Mission Song is not a perfect novel (suffering from just a bit of predictability and main character obtuseness), but it's close to perfection if you like a good story and good characters in the murky, ugly real world of neo-colonial politics.

Also by John le Carré: My review of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Book Review: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John le Carré

One-line summary: The spy game as it really is -- dirty, scary, and played by morally ambigious screw-ups.

Published by Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1963, 256 pages

The story of Alec Leamas - a 50-year-old professional secret agent who has grown stale in espionage, who longs to "come in from the cold" - and how he undertakes one last assignment before that hoped-for retirement.

Leamas is responsible for keeping the double agents under his care undercover and alive, but East Germans start killing them, so he gets called back to London by Control, his spy master. Yet instead of giving Leamas the boot, Control gives him a scary assignment: play the part of a disgraced agent, a sodden failure everybody whispers about.

Le Carré is the anti-Fleming; Alec Leamas is the anti-Bond. Read Fleming for fun, read this book because it's in the tiny company of truly literary spy thrillers.Collapse )

Verdict: A book anyone who likes spy novels should read. It's grim and gritty and realistic with sharp plot twists and compelling characters, and captures an era that's fading from memory, the world of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, though I did not read it specifically for the books1001 challenge. But it remains unassigned, so you could!

My Book Reviews



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