A most wanted man : a novel

by John Le Carré

Paper Book, 2008

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Scribner, 2008.

Description

A half-starved young Russian man claiming to be a devout Muslim, an idealistic young German civil rights lawyer, and a sixty-year-old scion of a failing British bank based in Hamburg form an unlikely alliance as the rival spies of Germany, England and America scent a sure kill in the "War on Terror," and converge upon the innocents.

Media reviews

User reviews

LibraryThing member reading_fox
Not one of Le Carre's best. It's a simplified reworking of several themes that he's covered before. Unfortunately they don't benefit from the simplified treatment.

We have the usual innocent (ish) runaway, pursued by the world's security forces; the naive bystanders eager to help the poor waif; and the corrupted agents trying to do the best they can in the world - holding off the combined forces of evil represented by their competing Agencies and the bad terrorists. There's a pretty girl and an attracted man, and a small town in Germany. (well OK it's set in Hamburg, but it is such a generic Hamburg that it could be anywhere.) You can guess all the rest quite clearly. It is again another screed bemoaning the overreaching US led anti-terror security forces.

It's a short book (fro LeCarre) The characters are thin for Le Carre, the action also repressed, and the descriptions terse. None of this plays to his strengths. The slow plot meanders it way to the inevitable conclusions, without any of the twists, turns, mis-directions, or sheer personalities that Le Carre has inspired in his more memorable works.

Skip this, and read Night Manager or Our Game, which cover the same themes in much better style.
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LibraryThing member tintinintibet
A quick read. Not much happens in this book -- probably intended to be more of a character development piece. I've read a couple le Carre books and now that I think about it most of them are character driven -- but this one particularly so. He was pretty heavy handed with his political commentary in 'Absolute Friends' which I found distracting since it appeared throughout the book; here it is a bit more constrained. I'm between 2 and 3 stars, but giving le Carre the benefit of the doubt.… (more)
LibraryThing member aadyer
A good thriller, with a surprisingly accessible beginning that combines just the right amount of menace, malice, suspicion & suspense to get you hooked. Interesting but ultimately shallowly drawn characters then spend the middle third of the book getting bogged down in intelligence protocol & process. This isn't excitement, but with the proper pacing could have been very gripping. Instead it was interesting but not involving. Worth a read, but not a reread, & certainly not a book I'll be keeping.… (more)
LibraryThing member mojomomma
Spy novels aren't my thing. I really had to force myself to get through this book. Lots of characters, many with multiple names. The characters seemed stereotyped to me--the misunderstood, but fiercely Islamic victim; the beautiful, stiff-upper-lip woman lawyer who everyone falls in love with, the slightly bumbling banker coasting to retirement. Blah, blah, blah. And of course, the Americans come along in the last 5 pages and screw up the best-laid plans of the Brits and Germans spies.… (more)
LibraryThing member whirled
I wouldn't evaluate Rembrandt based on paintings he did in kindergarten, and it seems similarly unfair to judge a past master of the spy thriller genre by the output of his emeritus years. Though I have known his name all my life, A Most Wanted Man was the first John le Carré book I've read. I found it a steady, workmanlike novel, not the type of intricate, shape-shifting page turner I had come to expect. Its themes of Islamic terrorism and corruption are topical, but the characterisations are thin and the plot lacks a sense of urgency - never a good sign for a thriller.… (more)
LibraryThing member pgmcc
A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carré

While A Most Wanted Man was a well written page turner it lacked the complexity I have come to love in Le Carré’s novels. Published in 2009 it was topical and I suspect it was the author’s way of bringing the practice of extraordinary rendition carried out by governments that keep quite about what they are doing and, when their actions are exposed, justify everything under the banner, “The War on Terrorism”.

Le Carré gives the reader a glimpse of the shady world of international counter espionage and the pervasive nature of modern surveillance.

A somewhat linear tale told by a master whose stories are not normally so straightforward.
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LibraryThing member ChickLitFan
This book was tough for me to get through, and the end was unrewarding. The story starts slow, introducing many characters, including intelligence workers from multiple governments, most of whom are trying to deceive each other. Around the halfway point, my interest engaged and took hold in the developing plot. Although I gave up on tracking the many peripheral characters, I was invested in finding out what happened to the central three characters. I was disappointed, then, that the ending came very abruptly, literally leaving some of the protaganists out on the street. There was no epilogue following up on these characters, so I was left still wanting to know what was going to happen to these people. This is the only book by Le Carre that I have read; I have heard others are better. I recommend skipping this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member Chris469
Well-written, forward-moving plot, good characters. Nice to see an intelligently written book of this genre. The storyline is a little less complex and more discernible than some of Le Carre's older spy thrillers. But still - at the risk of sounding like the Emperor in "Amadeus" complaining that a Mozart piece has "too many notes" - I think it has "too many characters" at least among the secondary players that we find in the German, American and British intelligence and police services -- hard to keep everyone straight. A movie version might help in this regard. But the main characters: Brue, Annabel, Bachman, and Issa, are all original and interesting personae.

There's an occasional bit of political/editorial commentary inserted into the mouths of some of the characters, but it's not laid on too heavily (as in Crichton's "State of Fear" for example) and frankly I'm pretty much in agreement with the author's perspective anyway.
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LibraryThing member idiotgirl
Audiobook. Interesting that LeCarre is moving into the post 9-11 world of terrorism. As always, it was a good read. In the end this one seemed to have a political point for the ending. That did disappoint me. I am interested in LeCarre because he engages political issues and writes complex psychological narratives. This book just didn't quite work for me and so disappointed.… (more)
LibraryThing member Nodosaurus
Issa arrived in Germany with no past and access to large money. He didn't want the money as it was gained immorally according the the laws of Islam. The story unravels his past, and who he is, without providing a lot of definite answers. Issa is studied by several teams, oftenwith different interpretations of the past.

This book is set in Germany, near the current time. It involves current issues, and feels typical for Le Carre's work.

The story moves slowly at first, in Le Carre's style, there is little action, as subtlety and knowledge are key. The suspense builds well, but slowly. Not all of the questions are answered, but the events are clear.
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LibraryThing member blackhornet
I've always been interested in why Le Carre is so popular. That's not to denigrate his writing, but rather to suggest that his books seem too slow, too serious, too English to consistently feature in best-seller lists. I'm also interested in what seems to be his shift to the left in recent novels. Here he offers a critique of the current 'war on terror', showing how the innocent are victimised, how the vaguely threatening are turned into global pariahs and the ethical are marginalised. I'm not sure he's offering a genuinely leftist critique of current US-British policy so much as a lament for the passing of old-style liberal espionage, but its good to see such a popular author challenging what's going on.

As for the slowness I mentioned, there really isn't much that happens in this novel. It's satisfying nonetheless, heavily character based and moving towards a rather inevitable but still satisfying conclusion.
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LibraryThing member sinaloa237
Very good overall but mixed feelings about this book.
Obviously, this is probably the best le Carré since The constant gardener. It is even getting close to the depth of his older works sometimes - but this comparison with the masterpieces of le Carré is a bit tedious, isn't it?

Whats is interesting and disappointing at the same time here is the cynism of the author and the lack of events in the novel.
Where one would expect some thrilling and somewhat unbilievable spy story, it is a more realistic account of possible truth - hence being a bit more dull.

Maybe something lacking in the emotinal picture of some of the characters, to be more compelling.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
John Le Carre continues to perform well. Though the narrative flags in the first third when he tries, mostly unsuccessfully, to paint the thoughts, doubts and relationship possibilities of his female lead, he recovers the strong narrative drive and the book becomes a winner. The ending is unpredictable but stitches up the tale very effectively. Good stuff. Read February 2010.… (more)
LibraryThing member jreeder
This troubling story deals with the limits of modern spy craft as it applies to finding and bringing terrorists to justice. Innocent people are falsely accused and the cascade of frightening events sweep others into a snare set by a multi-national anti-terrorist team.
LibraryThing member Hagelstein
Le Carre tackles the territoriality and ethics of modern terror investigations with this story, set in Hamburg. He creates an intricate investigation and espionage operation that comes to a jarring end -- making a mockery of one spymaster's promise to a source: "We won't tell you all the truth, dear, we can't. But whatever we do tell you will be true."… (more)
LibraryThing member Clara53
A page-turner, as most of his books.
LibraryThing member mmyoung
If I were to sum up this book in one word it would be _unconvincing_. Le Carre continues to be weak in his characterizations of women and his treatment of the sympathetic Muslim characters seemed closer to magical realism than realism. I felt the author was substituting flavour for substance. It is not the ambiguity of the characters and the problems that I found disappointing -- it is the fact that I felt no insight into the struggles the different characters. Too many of the characters seemed to have no "there" and so I felt their choices were arbitrary -- that is to say that the characters acted in a certain way because the plot of the novel required them to do so rather than the plot arises from the nature of the characters.… (more)
LibraryThing member AnneliM
In the mold of his other books, but changed to contemporary story. A young man is smuggled into Hamburg and attaches himself to a Turkish widow and her son. He claims connections to an account with a private bank in the city. A young lawyer wants to help him, but soon they all are under the eye of various secret service outfits.… (more)
LibraryThing member ggarfield
Moral and financial complexities permeate this novel which carries with it a biting commentary on western foreign policy and particularly that of America. A follow the money journey through an archipelago of global banks both large and small who are subtly connected to vaguely named charitable organizations. Here too is the classic spy story, but it carries the more raw and violent edge of the post 9/11 era. One of the book’s main characters; the steely, ruthless and indefatigable German spy chief Gunther Bachman states “we are not policemen, we are spies. We do not arrest our targets. We develop them and redirect them at bigger targets. When we identify a network, we watch it, we listen to it, we penetrate it and by degrees we control it. Arrests are of negative value.”

And in the shadows there is the suggestion that we “shake-down” and torture too and this has a decidedly more sinister and edgy feel than the interrogation of Bill Hayden of yesteryear.

The reader gains a comprehension of the chronic paranoia which spawns the evil shadows in the closet sense of things (or not) which, in turn generates the motivation behind the actions of three western spy agencies in this story. This becomes a study in moral complexity, fear and policy.

Do these agencies and their people become a monster in pursuit of one? If a person is 95% good and 5% bad does that make them all bad? Mostly good? Bachman describes what 5% “bad” means in the real world when the author paraphrases his thought by saying that the public is protected from having to grapple with the dilemma which he concludes is the “slaughterhouse blood washing over your toe caps, and the hundred percent dead scattered in five percent bits over a square kilometer of the town square (presumably from a suicide bomber).” 5% bad might lead to 100% dead being the inference. And so the psychology becomes amplified and finds itself to action and policy. So accustomed to their paranoia are they that truth becomes obscured. Maddening. Bachman wrestles with this dilemma; but the classic LeCarre character Mr. Tommy Brue and the German civil rights lawyer who defends the protagonist do even more so. Where does this leave us?

Finally the reader is clear that the book’s protagonist, Issa, is (or might be) innocent but nonetheless has been sucked into the maelstrom of American lead extraordinary rendition and spying and this leaves the reader hanging. What is to become of Issa? We realize that the story might continue in some Egyptian or Syrian torture chamber and that there are many stories just like it and that justice has very well been compromised and perverted OR has it?

This is as close to the “old LeCarre” as I’ve seen among his most recent novels. It harkens back to the moral complexity and haunting questions of the Karla trilogy, or The Spy Who Came in From the Cold or The Night Manager. It’s very good, but it just squeaks into 5 star territory well behind of the aforementioned.

It leaves me wrestling with a lot of important questions which out live the reading of the book. And that, I suspect, is the point. It is also what makes it so good and worthy of just getting into the 5 star zone for me.
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
le Carre always shows the darkest side of the espionage business. No different in this work exploring the intelligence agencies activities in the so-called war on terror.
LibraryThing member KevinJoseph
John le Carre bases A Most Wanted Man on a most unlikely premise. To depict the extent of Western xenophobia and scapegoating spawned by 9/11, he chooses to set this spy novel not in the country that was struck by the terrorists, or in the nations targeted by the ensuing War on Terror, but in the country that served as a way station for several key 9/11 terrorists.

Hamburg, Germany, a city known for its openness to foreigners, is infiltrated by a fractured young man from Chechnya who may (or may not) pose the next grave threat to Western civilization. Young Issa's improbable entry into Germany, tenuous connection to Islamic radicals, and inherited right to a large secret bank account held by British-owned Brue Freres, place him in the crosshairs of German, British and United States intelligence agencies, each with its own mysterious agenda. When young civil rights attorney Annabel petitions bank owner Tommy Brue to release the secret funds and help protect Issa from deportation, Annabel and Tommy find themselves caught up in a multi-layered plot that tests their willingness to sacrifice their reputations and livelihoods for the benefit of this enigmatic young man.

A Most Wanted Man succeeds not only as a sophisticated spy thriller, but also as a nuanced character study, provocative political commentary, and thoughtful examination of what it really means to be a moral human being. The writing is fluid throughout, and the well-constructed plot builds suspense even in the absence of violent action. The ending, though, left me with the impression that le Carre wound this tale so tightly that it jammed up at the climax and could not release properly. When this gets made into a movie, as seems to be the case with most of le Carre's books, the screen writer's challenge will be to devise a more fitting resolution to this fantastic build-up.
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LibraryThing member AramisSciant
Solid spy thriller with a nice mix of mysterious characters from Chechens and Russians to a number of agents with the usual inter-agencies' rivalries. In the end though, the real villains turn out to be much more familiar. Good writing and pacing; lousy politics.
LibraryThing member davidpwhelan
Tightly written novel that slowly weaves illegal immigration, private banking, the legal system, and terrorism together. Reminded me a bit of Lorraine Adams' Harbor, as it shows how a character's circumstances can be entirely misunderstood, or purposely seen as hostile, because of our "war on terror" policies in Western nations. I still prefer the Le Carre's Smiley novels but this is definitely worth a read.… (more)
LibraryThing member sharonlflynn
I found this a little bit confusing at first, I couldn't work out who each character was or how they were connected. As the book went on, though, I got caught up in the story. It's about a Chechen man who is smuggled into Germany. The man, Issa, is a rebel and a "known" terrorist who has been tortured. He makes contact with a lawyer, Annabel Richter, and a wealthy British banker, Tommy Brue. He needs their help in order to stay in Germany and become a doctor. As the story unfolds, we see that Frau Richter desperately wants to help Issa, and Mr Brue's bank has a past which means that Issa has claim to millions held in its vaults. Enter German, British and US Intelligence!… (more)
LibraryThing member Parthurbook
There's a fine line between 'meticulous detail' and 'ponderous' which le Carre (at least for me) has always straddled. This novel of 'war-on-terror' spycraft is no exception, building tension very slowly, while examining the multiple shades of grey in a black-and-white world. It's great strength is the examination of cultural differences between nations trying to right wrongs. Interesting, studied and methodical - if not wildly entertaining.… (more)

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