The nightmare and shame of humanity is that there is always a war going on somewhere on the planet. And yet, for writers such as John le Carré, this sad fact is great fodder for stories. Where there is conflict, there are spies, and le Carré—a former secret agent himself—is a writer in complete command of the spy genre. In the aftermath of 9/11, his spies have made a seamless transition into the modern world. They are just as devious, just as two-faced and, thanks to their creator, just as riveting a collection of characters as he brought us when writing about the Cold War and MI6 operative George Smiley.
A Most Wanted Man opens with a slender young man in a dark coat named Issa (a Persian name for Jesus) following a Turkish mother and son on a dark street at night in Hamburg, Germany. The young man is a devout Muslim and asks for shelter in their home. This sets off a chain of events that involves an unlikely trio of central characters—Issa, whose real background is that of a Russian aristocrat; Annabel Richter, a young idealistic lawyer who acts as Issa's attorney; and Tommy Brue, a retiring wealthy British banker. Issa has been smuggled into Hamburg to retrieve a huge sum of money held for years by Tommy Brue's bank. But Issa wants nothing to do with what he considers a tainted fortune, given that it originated with his father, Col. Karpov of the Red Army.
Where le Carré excels, perhaps better than anyone, is in the gray areas of plot and characterization. This is a complex and multi-layered work with a roll call of memorable characters that still manages to distill the theme into Western thought versus Islamist philosophy.
At 77 years of age, le Carré (né David Cornwell) shows no signs of slowing down. You're never in for a breezy read with him, but as in the works of most master craftsman, the demands put upon the reader are small compared to the intense and lasting rewards.
Michael Lee is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2008 August #2
Government knaves and compromised idealists duel over the fate of an alleged terrorist in le Carré's latest examination of The Way We Spy Now.A gaunt stranger in a long black overcoat materializes one night near the docks of Hamburg. Calling himself Issa, speaking only Russian, identifying himself as a Chechen Muslim, he attaches himself to Turkish heavyweight champion Melik Oktay, who gives him shelter, and Annabel Richter, the Sanctuary International lawyer who begins the long fight to normalize his position in Germany. The case for deporting Issa is strong. He'd been imprisoned in his homeland, then again in Sweden, where he'd been smuggled before escaping to Hamburg. But Issa holds one trump card. His father, Col. Grigori Borisovich Karpov, was one of a handful of Russian gangsters who opened a Lipizzaner account at the private banking firm of Brue FrÃ¨res years ago. If Issa claimed the funds due his father, he'd be a rich man. Despite the urging of Annabel and Tommy Brue, the guilt-ridden heir of Brue FrÃ¨res, Issa doesn't want the money; he only wants to be granted asylum and study medicine. Or is he, as the intelligence agencies of Germany and Britain contend, a jihadist who's arrived in Hamburg to work some frightful act of terror? As Annabel labors to keep Issa hidden from the authorities until she's secured his legal status and Brue struggles to reconcile his commission from his father's criminal clients with the safety of his bank and himself, GÃ¼nther Bachmann, of Germany's domestic intelligence service, warily tracks the new arrival, only to find himself under pressure from a pair of clownish but menacing British agents whose deep-laid plans have roots a generation deep.The story can't possibly end well, and it doesn't. But le Carré (The Mission Song, 2006, etc.), without lecturing, deftly puts human faces and human costs on the paranoid response to the threat of terrorism. Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2008 June #1
A young Russian named Issa, smuggled into Hamburg and claiming he's Muslim. Annabel, the civil rights lawyer trying to stop his deportation. And British banker Tommy Brue, to whom Annabel turns for help. Everyone is after them in le Carre's latest. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2008 September #1
When private British bankers Brue Frres took on some unusual clients at the time of the former Soviet Union's collapse, the prospect of terrorist ties or involvement in state security organs was but a dim shadow on the horizon. Now, though, a young and curiously charming Chechen with the marks of torture on his body has arrived as a stowaway in Hamburg and bearing the key to a Brue lockbox. Sheltered by Annabel, a fiery German human rights attorney, the Chechen needs a safe berth. Relying on assumptions of fair dealing, Annabel and Tommy Brue craft a wily deal that protects the refugee and releases the funds. British and German agents act as guarantors of the deal, but no one anticipates the CIA's crashing the party. In le Carr's inimitable way, the individual's striving to do the right thing offers an eloquent but feathery counterweight to the relentless pressure of the "espiocrats," the author's neologism for the new spies operating within the the ethics of expedience. The old spy master hasn't lost his touch. Every public library should order multiple reserve copies. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/08.]--Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA[Page 119]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
When boxer Melik Oktay and his mother, both Turkish Muslims living in Hamburg, take in a street person calling himself Issa at the start of this morally complex thriller from le Carr (The Mission Song ), they set off a chain of events implicating intelligence agencies from three countries. Issa, who claims to be a Muslim medical student, is, in fact, a wanted terrorist and the son of Grigori Karpov, a Red Army colonel whose considerable assets are concealed in a mysterious portfolio at a Hamburg bank. Tommy Brue, a stereotypical flawed everyman caught up in the machinations of spies and counterspies, enters the plot when Issa's attorney seeks to claim these assets. The book works best in its depiction of the rivalries besetting even post-9/11 intelligence agencies that should be allies, but none of the characters is as memorable as George Smiley or Magnus Pym. Still, even a lesser le Carr effort is far above the common run of thrillers. (Oct.)[Page 43]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.