June 12th, 2012


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.

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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.