A Most Wanted Man, by John le Carré

October 1, 2011 at 21:53 (Book Reviews, Fiction, Poorly Rated Books, Thriller) (, , , , )


Since the ending of the Cold War, le Carré has seemed to feel a need to keep up with the times, and shift his novels to the modern world. On the one hand, there is a real dearth of excellent espionage writers working today. On the other hand, his particular brand of writing does not necessarily transfer perfectly. Despite the grittiness and shabby realism that has always been his hallmark, there is something bafflingly alluring and even attractive about his balding, depressed, divorced and alcoholic denizens of The Circus. A lot of that disappears in his New World, in which gruff anti-terror police hound shifty bankers and moan about the CIA. It seems more like a better-written Tom Clancy than anything else, and the closest le Carré comes to his former style (not to say his former brilliance) is in the character of the harried and deeply flawed lawyer, Richter. She has all of the emotional traffic and some of the depth that some of his earlier creations posessed, and shines because of it. Though she is, of course, ultimately stymied by the faceless bastions of power that she comes up against, her defeat rings out defiantly in the manner of the eponymous spy who came in from the cold, Leamas.

“They’re not Osama’s sleepers, or his talent spotters, or his couriers or his quartermasters or paymasters…They’re just nice dinner guests.”

-A Most Wanted Man

The plot of this book is fairly simple and predictable, which is not quite so objectionable as the message behind it. Rather unfortunately, A Most Wanted Man is firstly and foremostly a diatribe against Them, and the new breed of super-spy-government-run-committee-led-men-in-black organisations who haunt the background of the story. One expects this from run-of-the-mill thriller authors; but le Carré won his success by turning a spotlight on the glamorous world of James Bond and revealing plump men in tired suits who drank too much and retired to mortgaged homes in the suburbs. His inexplicable adoption of an outsider’s perspective of a monolithic well-oiled government machine grinding nameless and faceless victims underfoot does not only seem trite, it seems lazy. A big disappointment from a great writer.


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