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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.