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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!