In the shadowy recesses of Whitehall and Washington an unholy alliance operates between the intelligence community and the secret arms trade. Jonathan Pine is ready to stand up and be counted in the fight against this ultimate heart of darkness. His mission takes him from the cliffs of west Cornwall, via northern Quebec and the Caribbean, to the jungles of post-Noriega Panama. His quarry is the worst man in the world.
'The Night Manager' was his first novel to be published in the post Cold War era, and it demonstrated that he wasn't particularly worried about adapting to a new agenda. The book bears all the hallmarks of his previous works: that extraordinary prose style that no-one has ever managed to emulate but which seems to flow so naturally and effortlessly for him, the air of despair encompassing his leading characters and a close attention to detail that always lends his novels such a depth of verisimilitude.
The protagonist, the night manager himself, is Jonathan Pine, a former soldier with more than customary amounts of career and family baggage, who has ended up working at a luxurious hotel in Zurich where he presides over the night shift. His attention is caught when Richard Roper, an immensely wealthy international tycoon, descends upon the hotel with his considerable retinue at short notice in the middle of a protracted blizzard. Pine has encountered Roper before and has a grudge to resolve. As the novel unfolds as Pine embarks on an espionage mission to expose Roper's dubious operations, going under deep cover, with professional assistance.
While not quite up to le Carre at his best, such as in 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy', this remains a very effective novel, cleverly plotted and delicately layered.
Was a bit slow in the beginning. But awesome story.
I was expecting a Bond-esque story. Now I know what to expect from a spy thriller.
Bond doesn't do as much work as Pine. He is getting a lot done for him. Except maybe the shooting. Pine is just awesome.
Also, now I know I have started expecting a lot from endings because of all the Hollywood movies. This book just pushes you back with a low-key ending.
Kept me hooked to the story even when there were parts where it was very slow.
More le Carre for sure.
The troubled characterization of the agent Jonathon Pine seems convincing enough, although internal verbalizing about his desire for the boss’s wife seems a bit overstated. Perhaps it is standing in for the passion that drives Pine – the reason he accepts such a role in the first place is his fury over the murder of another woman linked to the gang and his own propensity for uncontrolled rage. (But this is another recurring theme for Le Carré – men driven by an unattainable passion for a woman. Also as usual for Le Carré, the women’s roles are thinly sketched, primarily being just an object of interest for the male protagonists.) Pine’s passions underlay his military past, and carry him through the mistakes and betrayals to his heroic if unsuccessful achievements.
Interesting here is how the betrayals that, in other Le Carré books come from conflicting national interests and organizations, here come from corruption, careerism and conflict within the British secret services. And equally bad is the way that the protectors of international law profess to be against crime, but turn away when commercial interests are at stake. In this scathing characterization, the internal conflicts lead to the destruction of good operators who try to protect honor and truth, and to the torture and near death of the agent Pine. It is one of the few (somewhat) happy endings in Le Carré’s books that sees Pine’s handler make a trade with an utterly venal and despicable criminal for Pine’s life. It’s interesting to see how the bureaucrats manoeuvre to gain and lose control, and how a principled operator tries to rescue his operation. This seems much more realistic than the spectacular technology and personal heroics of the trashy spy novels.
Like Le Carré’s other novels, his tone is that of a distanced observer, even when describing the internal workings of his character’s mind. This again distinguishes it from the more conventional spy novels, where the point is the visceral excitement of the action. That isn’t the point with Le Carré, although he does build suspense and tension as his plot develops. But for a thoughtful examination of ambiguous morality, deceit and corruption in and between governments, Le Carré succeeds in illuminating what is really going on
Brilliant characterisations, intelligent, cynical, well written and believable. Full of glamour and danger. With various strands of the secret services with their own agendas and language politicking in the background.
In the afterword, fascinated and pleased to read that Le Carre really liked the tv adaptation, even though the fates of some of the characters diverged radically from the novel.
I might try another Le Carre later this year to see if maybe I'd have better luck getting my attention grabbed.
This world is not the world of Bond, though, or indeed that of le Carré's own earlier works – it is much murkier and more chaotic. It is harder to see who the bad guys are, since so many of them seem to be doing business with the good guys: a lot of high-up people are very willing to make excuses.
‘Not bad chaps, Rex. Mustn't be too critical. Just a bit marooned. No more Thatcher. No more Russian bear to fight, no more Reds under the bed at home. One day they've got the world all carved up for them, two legs good, four bad. Next day they get up in the morning, they're sort of – well – you know—’ He finished his premise with a shrug. ‘Well, nobody likes a vacuum, do they? Not even you like a vacuum. Well, do you? Be honest. You hate it.’
‘By vacuum, you mean peace?’ Goodhew suggested, not wishing in the least to sound censorious.
At the other end of the chain from the dodgy-dealing senators and ministers, you have the foot-soldiers of this new criminal economy – a growing multinational population of disaffected specialists.
American veterans sickened first by war and then by peace; Russian Spetsnaz, trained to guard a country that disappeared while their backs were turned; Frenchmen who still hated de Gaulle for giving away North Africa; the Israeli boy who had known nothing but war, and the Swiss boy who had known nothing but peace; the Englishmen in search of military nobility because their generation somehow missed the fun (if only we could have had a British Vietnam!), the huddle of introspective Germans torn between the guilt of war and its allure.
Attention here is on the forces of international law enforcement – those fighting arms and drugs trafficking, specifically – who have an uneasy, even adversarial, relationship with the ‘espiocrats’ of MI6 or the CIA who, in their view, are constantly asking them to turn ‘a blind eye to some of the biggest crooks in the hemisphere for the sake of nebulous advantages elsewhere’.
The prose is typically efficient and controlled. His political understanding is very deep, his dialogue is outstanding, and lightning portraits of new characters are a joy: one man has ‘a face to play cards against and lose’, while the main female lead, Jeds (a public-school abbreviation of Jemima), is characterised by her ‘jeweled brilliance and a kind of dressed nakedness’.
I love this line, but it's also a pointer to the rather limited role of women in the book: they are too sexualised and too disposable for my liking. Of course Jeds is the kind of young, hot arm-candy that very rich criminals really do keep around, and you could say her character is perfectly justified; but for me she wasn't balanced nearly enough by the rest of the female cast for me to feel able to enjoy it. I found this very disappointing – it's such a glaring hole in an otherwise masterful grip on characterisation.
I saw an old interview with Ian McEwan in The Telegraph when I was looking this book up online, where he suggested le Carré was the most significant novelist of the second half of the twentieth century. ‘Most writers I know think le Carré is no longer a spy writer. He should have won the Booker Prize a long time ago. It’s time he won it and it’s time he accepted it. He’s in the first rank.’ I love to see sentiments like that and I think it's great to see a lit-fic star talking about the qualities of a so-called genre writer. This book is more evidence of his many talents – read it quick, a TV adaptation is apparently on the way.