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.
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.
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.
I listened to this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. John le Carre reads the book himself, and he does a good job of it. I found the plot to be frighteningly plausible. I liked the main characters and especially enjoyed the relationships between Issa, Annabelle, and Tommy Brue. This is a book peopled with realistic people caught in unimaginably terrifying circumstances!
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.
Their efforts quickly come under the eye of various counter-intelligence agencies: German, British, and US. Each agency has its own agenda in dealing with the trio. Le Carre does a nice job describing the nuances of the agencies' various modes, motivations, and interactions. One group of German agents, the good cops, wants to use the banker, the lawyer, and the Chechen (and the Chechen's money) to compromise and turn a prominent Muslim doctor with suspicious ties. The others, especially the Americans, have other ideas.
Le Carre also creates an intriguing ambiguity as to who or what the Chechen really is. Is he a terrorist? A hapless victim? Likewise, with regard to Dr. Abdullah - is he a legitimate conduit for channeling money to leading Muslim charities or is he knowingly directing part of the funds to nefarious ends?
I found the story less than compelling at times - in a word, put-down-able (if that is a word). The motivations of the banker and to a lesser extent, the lawyer to take huge risks are not entirely convincing. But then LeCarre has never really produced page-turners.
The interplay of the anti-terror cops with one another and their victims (no other word for it, really) leading to the sudden and the powerfully disturbing denouement - a sickening kick to the stomach made all the more distressing by its realism - compensate for any shortcomings. Not on a level with Smiley's People, but much better than many of his post-Cold War offerings. Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.
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.
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.
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.
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.