|A Most Wanted Man
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New spies with new loyalties, old spies with old ones; terror as the new mantra; decent people wanting to do good but caught in the moral maze; all the sound, rational reasons for doing the inhuman thing; the recognition that we cannot safely love or pity and remain good "patriots" -- this is the fabric of John le Carr¨¦'s fiercely compelling and current novel A Most Wanted Man.
A half-starved young Russian man in a long black overcoat is smuggled into Hamburg at dead of night. He has an improbable amount of cash secreted in a purse around his neck. He is a devout Muslim. Or is he? He says his name is Issa.
Annabel, an idealistic young German civil rights lawyer, determines to save Issa from deportation. Soon her client's survival becomes more important to her than her own career -- or safety. In pursuit of Issa's mysterious past, she confronts the incongruous Tommy Brue, the sixty-year-old scion of Brue Fr¨¨res, a failing British bank based in Hamburg.
Annabel, Issa and Brue form an unlikely alliance -- and a triangle of impossible loves is born. Meanwhile, scenting a sure kill in the "War on Terror," the rival spies of Germany, England and America converge upon the innocents.
Thrilling, compassionate, peopled with characters the reader never wants to let go, A Most Wanted Man is a work of deep humanity and uncommon relevance to our times.
- A good but hardly great novel from a master.
As an unabashed admirer of John Le Carre's novels harking back to the brilliant The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, as well as his later work which evinces an increasingly ambiguous moral universe, I find myself somewhat saddened by the current state of the master's art. In his earlier writing one always found an almost crystalline surface of many facets that glittered ethical dilemma in all directions. Depending on where one sat in the room of the mind one saw an entirely different aspect of the moral issues that Le Carre raised. His writing and his thematic material were pliable. They possessed a malleability that prevented the reader from seeing any issue in simplistic terms. That is what made his work so remarkable. That plastic malleability has been removed from his latest work. Le Carre now seems to deal in often rigid Anti-American absolutes, a by-product of the Bush years and his "War on Terror". Without that sense of moral ambiguity Le Carre becomes just another writer. A good one, of course, but a writer without the depth and resonance necessary to create great work. A Most Wanted Man is a decent suspense thriller but everything wonderful that I remember about Le Carre's older work seems to have vanished. And that's a pity....more info
- well-written, forward-moving plot, good characters
Nice to see an intelligently written book of this genre. The storyline is a little less complex and more discernible than some of Le Carre's older spy thrillers. But still - at the risk of sounding like the Emperor in "Amadeus" complaining that a Mozart piece has "too many notes" - I think it has "too many characters" at least among the secondary players that we find in the German, American and British intelligence and police services -- hard to keep everyone straight. A movie version might help in this regard. But the main characters: Brue, Annabel, Bachman, and Issa, are all original and interesting personae.
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.
- Careful Character Study of Unlikely Allies
Present-day Hamburg. A strange, emaciated man follows a hulk of a Turkish boxer. Banker Tommy Brue receives an enigmatic invitation. And a beautiful, idealistic social worker named Annabel binds them inexplicably together. What secret do they share? Or do they even know what that secret is? Meanwhile, a razor-sharp Gunther Bachmann of German intelligence is hot on their trail.
While this story has the makings of an action thriller, it is rather an intricate character study of these four main characters. Only at the very end is there a very brief action. This being the first Le Carre novel I've read, I expected something different, i.e. a lot of action. Le Carre's book focuses instead on the characters and the mysteries they've wrapped themselves in.
The ghosts of the Cold War haunt their living descendants, and the stranger, the banker, and the social worker form an unlikely alliance. They all seek a personal redemption from their current lives. The stranger wants the banker's money, the banker wants the social worker, and the social worker wants to save the stranger. Had banker Tommy Brue not been in love with Annabel I would have found it impossible to believe his behavior; I still not totally convinced. But perhaps.
Overall, it was a well-written drama (not an action-thriller). If you enjoy character studies, then get this book. If you want thrilling action, look elsewhere....more info
- Le Carre': A Master Storyteller
My book club made this title our selection and I was excited about reading his latest tale. I downloaded it to my Kindle and I was off...loved all the characters and the plotting. Le Carre's prose is sublime. A yarn spun about terrorism and its witting and unwitting subjects. I loved it and then it was suddenly over, in a kind of shaggy dog fashion...I wanted it to go on but alas Le Carre' put down his pen and sent it off to his publisher. A very good read that pulls up short at the end ,but still worthwhile. Next Book Club selection; Rabbit Run....more info
Most of John LeCarre's novels have a nuanced and subtle quality that becomes enhanced by the dilemmas faced by his characters. In his latest novel, A Most Wanted Man, most nuance is absent, and the bluntness matches that of other modern spy thrillers, but not of what readers have come to expect from this master of the genre. Given that this is a lesser LeCarre novel, it doesn't mean readers should take a pass. Like other artists considering how to write post-9/11, LeCarre dials up his anti-Americanism, and reveals the consequences of policies with which he adamantly disagrees. The man in the title is Issa, a Chechen Muslim, and the illegitimate son of a Russian Army colonel who attained wealth during the confusion following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Issa enters Germany illegally and ends up in Hamburg, where he is helped by a lawyer named Annabel Richter for an organization that aids displaced people. Issa believes that the private bankers at Brue Freres can help him, and a chunk of the novel involves exposition about Tommy Brue, the remaining banker and the secrets of his bank's past thanks to his father's decisions. Tommy and Anabel provide for some interesting dialogue and action. The closest character to some of the best created by LeCarre in the past is Gunther Bachmann, who leads a domestic spy unit. A Muslim cleric who does 95% good becomes involved in the action. Of course, the involvement is in the 5%. This is a fine novel for an airplane trip or a vacation: enough to keep the brain mildly engaged, but not much more.
Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
- Ridiculously Topical
Very good, though not one of his best. As usual, very rich characters and a great story. He stays exclusively in one location, which is unusual, but it works. It seems like the book could be adapted to a stage play....more info
- Spy Games
It is a tangled web Mr. LeCarre weaves in his most recent work of spy fiction. A young Russian lands in modern day Hamburg and is is need of immediate assistance. Those who dare to help, including his young attractive lawyer and a 60 year old banker, are caught in an ever tightening web of intrigue. Mr. LeCarre story telling powers are superb and his prose is beautiful. I raced thru the final 50 pages. The story dragged in couple of spots but all in all it was a pretty compelling read. ...more info
- Good writing, marred by author's typical anti-Americanism
John Le Carre is a good writer, no questions about that. He has beter than average skills at developing sympathetic characters wgo moan and groan about protecting their nation's interests, but do it anyway. Of course, Le Carre's concept of honorable nationhood does not extend to the United States of America.
Anyone who has read Le Carre's books, his op-ed pieces and interviews knows that Le Carre considers the United States to be evil and eminently hateable. Le Carre criticized Salman Rushdie for publishing his "Satanic Verses" and, according to Le Carre, putting people associated with him in danger.
With the Cold War ending, Le Carre hasn't seemed to be able to adapt to a changed world, though he has lost none of his skills as a writer.
"A Most Wanted Man" introduces us to Issa, who may or may or not be an Islamic terrorist with ties to Chechnya. Issa may or may not also be the sole beneficiary to a considerable fortune salted away in a now German bank run by the Britisher Tommy Brue. He is an illegal immigrant to Germany. A human rights agency has assigned Annabel Richter as his lawyer and she becomes the contact to Brue in order to secure Issa's fortune.
Complicating matters is the fact that Issa may or may not have been in Russian and Turkish prisons from which he may or may not have escaped. His exit route from Turkey in the hands of smugglers was circuitous and has resulted in his becoming as person of interest, if not wanted, by Swedish, Danish and German law enforcement.
Le Carre's handling of the preliminaries is typical Le Carre, Issa appears to be mentally unbalanced. Annabel Richter, his lawyer, is idealistic and convinced she is better than her lawyer parents. Brue is an aging man with younger trophy wife and an estranged adult daughter from his first marriag. He is also haunted by the fact that his family bank is failing and that his father engaged in some shenanigans decades ago for the benefit of scoundrels from the Soviet Union, one of whom may have been Issa's father.
Enter Gunther Bachmann, German intelligence operative. For reasons that never become crystal clear, Bachmann wants to entrap Issa and he uses Annabel and Brue to do it. As this plot line emerges, so does the vintage Le Carre.
The intelligence units fight with each other over turf, individuals maneuver for their own personal advantage, the moral issues are reduced to grays, rather than black and white.
Ultimately British intelligence becomes involved and then the US, whom Le Carre clearly despises.
All of this is tolerable if you appreciate Le Carre's writing and plotting skills as I do.
Unfortunately, the story is not all that compelling and ultimately Le Carre has to bring it to an end.
And it is at that point that Le Carre turns to his anti-Americanism for a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion. Unsatisfying, that is, if you find doctrinaire left-wing anti-Americanism tiresome.
So, "A Most Wanted Man" is typical Le Carre. Good writing. Good character development, with the usual bone-weary civil servants. A story that runs out of steam about half-way through and conludes with gratuitous anti-Americanism. Ultimately unsatisfying to me, but Le Carre undeniably writes well.
- The Incontinent Gardner
Years ago, John le Carr¨¦ was the man who rescued English popular fiction from the dregs of Ian Fleming, Sax Rohmer and their ilk. He wrote tightly-plotted, realistic depictions of espionage and detective work, and his novels were met with instant acclaim and success.
Then something horrible happened. It would seem that he began taking all the applause to heart, and he likewise began to believe that any words which issued from his fingertips were at least equal to the oeuvre of Thomas Hardy. It also dawned on him that the world was in dire need of his guidance in regard to politics and diplomacy.
The result was that the substance of his novels became thinner and thinner. One could summarize the plot of each successive novel on the back of a postcard -- or on a microdot under the stamp. I suppose it could be argued that he abandoned storytelling in favor of character studies, but unlike George Smiley, his later characters were so shallow that they needed no study, and we were thus presented with piles and piles of (to use a polite term) padding.
"A Most Wanted Man" is obviously le Carr¨¦'s best novel since The Little Drummer Girl, but its plot could easily be summarized in one or two sentences. A holy idiot (an Islamic Parsifal?) stumbles into Germany to give away his Russian father's ill-gotten gains, and from page one, you just *knowww* it ain't gonna happen. That's all there is to it.
So in place of a story, we get tedious descriptions and each character's history (now known by the ghastly neologism "back-story"). It is revealed that Annabel, the love interest, had a pony when she was a girl (again with the pony!), and we are treated to her shopping list:
Sweet and savory.
Russian medical journals: where to find?
My cassette player. Classical only, no trash.
"Fresh milk"? Say, as opposed to stale milk? "More food"? One word is never enough for John le Carr¨¦ if he can jam in two or three, because to him, each of his words are gems, and the more the better. Early in the novel, Bachmann, the top German agent, gives a speech to his cohorts. Such speeches are always a bad idea for a novel, and it should never have been written. No speech at all would've been an improvement; a short speech would've been tolerable; but this speech goes on for 7 (seven!) agonizing and pointless pages.
Elmore Leonard famously listed ten sapient rules for writing. John le Carr¨¦ seems to be the anti-Leonard, because he follows an opposite set of rules. For example. Leonard cautioned against using "a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue." Le Carr¨¦'s characters never "say" anything; it's always "he jabbed" or "she snapped."
Elmore Leonard also warned writers never to go into great detail describing characters, places or objects. John le Carr¨¦ describes everything and everyone in excruciating detail -- not once, but often several times.
And most famously Elmore Leonard suggested that writers leave out the parts that readers tend to skip. That would, I think, indicate that readers should skip this entire book....more info
- He Hasn't Lost His Touch
Le Carre, though getting up there in years, has not lost any of his imaginative writing skill. This is a stimulating, enjoyable, thought-provoking book.
Of course, not all readers will agree, for various reasons. Another reviewer suggests skipping the first 50 pages in order to avoid the detailed portrayal of the characters!
And several reviewers are disappointed that we (the USA) are not really presented as the good guys in this story. We Confederates are quite accustomed to that, of course.
Actually, it can be quite enlightening to see ourselves as others see us. But, if you'd really rather not, take a cue from that other reviewer's page-skipping suggestion. The Yank cousins don't really get out of hand until the final ten pages or so. Withdraw early. Stay happy....more info
- Obsession with Terrorism (3.75 *s)
While plot is not irrelevant in Le Carre's novels, one reads them for the look and feel of the clandestine world: operatives, agencies, and techniques, as well as the psychology and philosophy of it all. Set in Hamburg, Germany, in a post-9/11 atmosphere, this book looks at the near obsession of competing agencies to find and thwart terrorists, where insubstantial evidence is hardly seen as an obstacle to action.
Others have mentioned the main characters: Issa, a traumatized Islamic Chechen; Annabel, his idealistic German lawyer; Tommy Brue, a remorseful banker; and Gunther Bachmann, a cautionary veteran of the spy wars, but now in a battle with those in a simplistic rush to judgment. Through lengthy dialogs and their musings, these characters and their dilemmas come to life.
However, in many ways, the characters seem to be in an inexorable drama in which they are helpless to moderate the mandate of national intelligence agencies to seek and destroy terrorists. Also, the author lets the attractions of Issa and Tommy to Annabel simply fizzle out.
While the author is obviously a supreme craftsman in this genre, the book is not entirely satisfying. The vagueness of Issa's background (is he a terrorist or victim) and his claims to a fortune with Brue's bank hangs over the book. Perhaps it is realistic, but the helplessness of those trying to operate in a reasoned, practical manner is not appealing. The lengthy meetings and the various machinations of the agencies do become a bit tedious and even a little confusing. Le Carre fans will undoubtedly be happy to have another offering regardless of where it stands among all of his work.
- Too slow for this reader
I must admit, I did not make it through this book. I did give a honest try and well, it just did not hold me. The story started out interestingly enough but information about characters, their motivations, and their interrelations are doled out with a eyedropper and the plot proceed's at snail's pace. I lost interest and eventually decided, life's too short. Of course others will disagree. I have not read any other Le Carre books but was aware of the name and the genre in which he has made a very successful career. Not for me, what else can I say?...more info
- a most needed book
John LeCarre's book should be suggested reading for those who see the "war on terror" in simplistic terms. As with his other novels, the characters are complex, imperfect, flawed, and even bewildered but are sometimes capable of moral courage and personal sacrifice. In this particular story, Issa, a young Chechen man, a refugee in more ways than one, seeks haven in Hamburg, Germany. His background is one of horrific losses and those who enter his life see quite soon that he is a damaged soul. One admirable and dogged lawyer who represents refugees takes his case and pours her heart into assisting him. An aging banker becomes involved when Issa presents a claim for a substantial amount of money secreted in the bank by the banker's father years ago. A group of German counter-intelligence operatives take notice of him, and so do those of both British and American agencies, each with its own agenda. It's a story for our times, not the least of which is the tragic consequences of a mission side-tracked by lack of critical thinking, and bureaucratic rivalry and in-fighting trumping just about everything....more info
I have read Le Carre' for many, many years now. This book may be his best. It is an all out page turner...perhaps a fitting swan song for the 'spymaster.'...more info
- A Most Wanted Eloquence
I won't attempt a discussion of narrative or plot. Those and the characters in Le Carre's latest work are commented on in all the other reviews. Let me simply say that the writing is breathtaking, the combination of words sublime. No doubt other authors are as good. But for the moment I can't think of any....more info
- Christ and the War on Terror: Now Showing in Hamburg
The mysterious Chechen refugee who occupies the center of John Le Carre's latest novel is named "Issa." And that's no coincidence. Issa is the Arabic name for Jesus. Much like Christ himself, this modern-day Issa is a devout yet baffling martyr worthy of love, devotion, fear and (some think) utter hatred.
When he arrives in Hamburg, Germany, after escaping by sea, Issa has already survived months of brutal torture at the hands of Russian interrogators. His sudden appearance in Hamburg as a sickly, homeless wanderer sends everyone else into a frenzy. They all want to know one thing: Who is this guy, really?
The novel's key characters include a family of Turkish immigrants, a human rights lawyer named Annabelle Richter, a shadowy yet kind-hearted ¨¦migr¨¦ banker named Tommy Brue, and a host of government investigators. Hamburg, as you may remember, was home for many of the 9/11 terrorists before they moved to the United States and the German authorities are particularly sensitive about their lack of "oversight" there.
As the novel progresses, we soon learn that Issa's father was a nasty Russian military officer named Karpov who stashed a fortune in Tommy Brue's bank. His mother was a Chechen beauty who was raped -- and then embraced -- by Karpov. Now Issa has come to claim his father's secret fortune so he can A) Give most of it away to Muslim charities and B) Use some of it to attend medical school.
HERE'S THE PROBLEM: The authorities think Issa is a Chechen terrorist planning another attack on the West. As they chase him around Hamburg, the other characters hide him in various locations until they can come up with a viable plan for distributing the money. (I won't give away the ending.)
Alas, "A Most Wanted Man" is not Le Carre's best work. The plot is very thin, in most places, and the reader's main enjoyment comes from witnessing the spiritual transformation of Richter, Brue and others as they come into contact with Issa. In fact, the book reads more like an interior dialogue -- good people trying to help a refugee, while at the same time trying to come to terms with their own sordid pasts. With a little reworking, this book would probably work better as a stage play.
One satisfying part of the story is learning about the ramshackle, disjointed approach to anti-terrorism in Germany. It's no wonder the 9/11 conspirators decided to use Hamburg as their home base -- it was patrolled by the "Keystone Cops." (Let's hope the federal police and their brethren are more organized now!)
In the closing credits at the end of the novel, we learn that part of the inspiration for "A Most Wanted Man" came from the real-life story of a Turkish refugee who was taken to Guantanamo Bay by U.S. authorities, despite very thin evidence against him. Clearly, Le Carre (himself a former diplomat) is disturbed by the violation of human rights in the war on terror -- no matter where it happens.
Therein lies a challenge for Western nations today: How do we vigorously defend ourselves against terrorism without trashing our own principles, ideals and commitment to the rule of law? We'll find out soon enough if President Obama and his administration are up to the task. I hope so....more info
- War on Terror
Having successfully put the Cold War to rest, John le Carre has now turned his attention to the War on Terror. In many ways it is an interesting book; in others it is unsatisfactory. Well-written as one would expect of this author, it really skirts the issue of Muslim militancy and terrorist acts. It is more symbolic than a penetrating insight into the subject, as has been previously demonstrated in his espionage fiction.
The characters are wooden puppets, symbols in a preconceived plot. There is a has-been banker, an idealistic young female lawyer, a Muslim illegal from Chechnya who escaped prison and torture in Russia and Turkey by way of Sweden and Denmark, and all kinds of representatives of German, British and American intelligence services: all playing a role in a drama that is only barely explained.
The story takes place in Hamburg, the city from which (a) the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers was plotted and (b) at least one mastermind left for New York City. The setting is selected to demonstrate that steps must be taken to counteract acts of terrorism. But, however harsh these steps may or not be and whether or not they are necessary, the novel addresses the problem in a perfunctory manner. Not up to the usual le Carre standards, but a fairly good read nevertheless.
- Where did it all go wrong?
Paraphrasing A. Alvarez's autobio title, Le Carre fans must continue in the wilderness wondering how a "favorite" author once more disappoints. Mr. Cromwell continues to finger contemporary international areas of conflict ahead of most genre writers. But his development seems to be "type writing volume" to fill space before a final resolve.
His inkblot analysis of each character has become more than one wants to know. None of characters is sympathetic. Their interactions are unbelievable. Their love fantasies are laughable. Their dialog is tedious.
Le Carre is indeed one of the great writers of the last 50 years. Future works I am sure will continue to be published and sell. But I have given up, finally, of expecting his early genius to met again. ...more info
- Le Carre Examines the 'War on Terror'
John Le Carre turns his still considerable literary and story-telling talents to the `war on terror' in his latest work. Set in Germany, a middle-aged ex-pat English private banker and a young idealistic left-wing lawyer form an unlikely alliance to help a somewhat mysterious illegal Chechen Muslim refugee when he turns up in ill-fated Hamburg. The Chechen has come to claim `black' bank account from the British banker with the aid of the lawyer.
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.
- Slow-starting, mixed-up spy novel from one of the greats.
First off, this is a European spy novel by one of the masters of the genre, John le Carre, known for The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and others. It is set in Hamburg Germany and involves a Muslim Chechen refugee who has escaped torture, Issa, who is the bastard son of a Russian General/gangster and is the heir to a rather large fortune. He wishes to use this money to aid Chechnya and other Muslims places and while trying to do this becomes ensnared in intelligence operations involving Germany, the US, and England.
An excellent premise but the novel then leaves the action and goes on and on about the flawed personalities, not of the spies, but of a banker and lawyer caught up in the mess. Not a single character is particularly likeable and they all seem wooden. The first half of the book is too slow and goes on and on about inter- and intra-service jealousies of the spies.
The second half of the book revolves around the moral complexities of imperfect people and then ends with the foreshadowed emergence of the big, bad Americans as the only truly bad guys (and stupid to boot)in the book. And so what should be a morally ambiguous thriller becomes one more Euro-weenie anti-American vehicle. Admittedly, I enjoyed the second half for its setting up of the various levels of betrayal at the end. But I was really hoping for a difficult-to-put-down page turner that wasn't political in nature.
So overall three stars with the good and bad as noted above....more info
- Conflicted Ambivalence
I liked, disliked, and became bored with John Le Carre's latest novel A Most wanted Man. At times it was terrific and read like one of Mr. Le Carre's earlier spy masterpieces, at other times it was tedious and I found myself committing the ultimate reading sin-skimming. I almost felt I was reading a Dostoyevsky psychological mind- bending story of spying hell. Who is who and what is what, and then the climatic finish with more questions than answers. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy international intrigue and espionage and have read most of the great authors but this book left a lot to be desired. It was almost as if 2 authors wrote it. The gripping suspenseful author, and the tedious long-winded author. I refused to quit and eventually finished the book to a most unsatisfactory ending.
Character development had the potential to be outstanding but lapsed in to long periods of superficiality. Lots of words little beef.
No gratuitous sex, language or violence. Lots of mind games but marginal at best.
Wait for the paperback or get the hardback at your local library. All in all it was an average read at best. There were parts of incredible mind action but these came in between long sections of tedium.
- No Softball Spy Games Here
Moral and financial complexities permeate this novel which carries with it a biting commentary on western foreign policy and particularly that of America. A follow the money journey through an archipelago of global banks both large and small who are subtly connected to vaguely named charitable organizations. Here too is the classic spy story, but it carries the more raw and violent edge of the post 9/11 era. One of the book's main characters; the steely, ruthless and indefatigable German spy chief Gunther Bachman states "we are not policemen, we are spies. We do not arrest our targets. We develop them and redirect them at bigger targets. When we identify a network, we watch it, we listen to it, we penetrate it and by degrees we control it. Arrests are of negative value."
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.
- Carre's latest on Islamic Terrorists and spies.
Illuminates the mindset of Islamic terrorists and theCIA types who pursue them. Book holds reader,s attention though convoluted at times. Not always easy to follow. Burt Shachter...more info
- First Le Carre book
Prompted by an NPR discussion of John LeCarre, I purchased this book. It was my first John LeCarre book. I am familiar with some of his other works, specifically those that were made into films (e.g., Constant Gardener). I enjoyed the book overall, but was left disappointed at the ending which left me unfulfilled. ...more info
- A Cold, Hard Slap in the Face
John Le Carre's "A Most Wanted Man" has much to say about the upheaval in the post-911 moral universe. Previous fans of Le Carre who reveled in the "West good/ Communist bad" genre of spy novels may be unprepared for the complexities of the post-Cold War age presented in this novel.
Some reviews at this post have decried it as pro-Islamic. Only if you define as pro-Islamic any work which shows that people of an Islamic ideology can be as righteous or self-righteous, as driven and confused, as focused and fragile as any other people.
This is a well-written tale. The characters are given depth enough for us to feel that we know them, but not so much as to distract from the fast-moving plot. This is what readers expect in a spy novel, and Le Carre delivers masterfully.
As an American reader, I found the ending to be a cold, hard slap in the face. And yet I cannot call it unjustified. If our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people, then we are responsible for the actions of our government and all its agencies, even underground ones. What Le Carre has given us is a spy novel that makes you think. ...more info
- An axe to grind. . . .
The Cold War, Le Carre's forte, is long over, and Le Carre has turned his attention to the war on terror. But the sides have switched, and Le Carre's disenchantment with the West pervades his current work. Absolute Friends is another example.
One of the wonderful things about Le Carre was the nuance and ambiguity he brought to his stories, but I feel as if he's lost that. This story is about a mysterious young man who arrives in Hamburg for a mysterious reason. He's a Muslim--maybe, a Chechen--maybe, an escaped prisoner--maybe, a terrorist, an idealist--we don't quite know. For equally mysterious reasons, an idealistic young German lawyer and a not-very-idealistic British private banker decide to save him from deportation, which, given his background and clearly illegal entry into Germany, doesn't seem unreasonable. The Germans, Brits and villainous Americans get into the act as part of a larger scheme to entrap a Muslim cleric. Based on what Le Carre tells us about the cleric, this doesn't seem unreasonable either. But Le Carre clearly thinks it is.
We've all become disenchanted with the war on terror, no doubt, but Le Carre could always show us that all is not what it seems. But now, what he sees is clear, at least for him. It's too bad....more info
- A Most Wanted Novelist
Fete of Death
I'm not going to make any bones about "A Most Wanted Man." It's one of le Carre's best works to date.
Le Carre continues to run rings around other writers in the espionage thriller field. Whereas most of these writers feel compelled to espouse their political views at the expense of story and character and to mortgage their talent to their PC publishers who have political axes to grind, le Carre remains objectively bent on telling a well-crafted, well-written story.
Other, lesser, writers, propagandists essentially, may fume and pontificate on their soapboxes about their political weltanschauungs in preachy novels that masquerade as thrillers. Le Carre, however, doesn't permit his political biases to interfere with his art. This is especially true in "A Most Wanted Man," which is more a novel than it is a thriller in the sense that there isn't much action in it. It's a novel about lies, manipulation, and double-dealing in the spy game, where the innocent and the guilty become caught up in an internecine clandestine political imbroglio beyond their control.
--Bryan Cassiday, author of "Fete of Death"...more info
- Decent spy novel
This was a decent spy novel. I rated it a 3 because the plot was a bit thin, but I did enjoy reading it. Seems like it was partly just trying to capitalize on 9/11 war on terror type stuff, another "there are new rules now" plotline. ...more info
- A pleasant read
A powerful story about a poor Chechen, the bastard son of a corrupt Russian General, who has suffered immensely in the hands of the Russians and the Turks and who ends up in Hamburg to reclaim his father's ill gotten gains which he intends to put to good use. He also wants to study medicine in order to help people. All Le Carre's characters, the Chechen, the German lawyer-ideologue and the failed British banker, despite their many clich¨¦s remain original and fresh, surreal yet real. The author manages to convey clinical detachment and objectivity behind which lies a deep concern about the world we live in. And reminds us of Plato's question: "who will protect us from our protectors"?...more info
- great characters, good start, falls apart at the end
I enjoyed the first 3/4 of this, my first LeCarre read, but the ending was disappointingly simplistic, predictable, abrupt and unsatisfying.
Definitely could have used more Bachmann, my favorite character. ...more info
- Different Perspectives
I'm not much of a fan of the spy genre, and I've only read two Le Carre novel before this one ("Tailor of Panama" and the one about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians). I wanted to give the current title a try because several reviewers thought that it had an "Anti-American" twist, which is something that sounds odd to my ear and something that I've really never come across before. As it turns out, this book has a lot of different targets--not just Americans. But the Americans that are portrayed are more cartoonishly evil and brutal than the others. What's Le Carre's problem anyway? That aside, this novel is clearly crafted well enough to hold the interest of a general fiction reader. (My only other quibble was with the rapid psychological collapse of a female protagonist which seemed ill-explained and out of character.) Politics notwithstanding, this novel is more literate than most and ranks well above the ordinary....more info
- Being There in Germany
John le Carre has created in Issa his most enigmatic character yet, which is saying a lot for le Carre. Issa has more in common with Chauncey Gardiner in Being There than any character in any other spy novel you've ever read. He's a cypher in the beginning and remains a cypher until the end, but everyone reacts to him based on their own inner demons, rather than anything Issa ever does or says, and he remains the one innocent character out of the whole lot. And by everyone, I mean exactly that, those who would help and protect him for their own reasons and assupmtions of who Issa is or might be, and the various intelligence services of Germany, Great Britain and the U.S., all with their own individual agendas. Watching the intell groups assess and attempt to exploit Issa, and use and abuse those around him and each other is the real fun here. ...more info
- A Long Way To A Little House
High expectations accompanied the publication of this book. This was my "first ever" read of a Le Carre novel. Frankly, it seemed to be a "long way to a little house." In a word, "A Most Wanted Man" lacks literary value. And, worse, it is only mildly entertaining. I vastly prefer Alan Furst's work, the very author that the NY Times asked to review this book. He praised it - sort of. I don't quite understand what's so hot about Le Carre. I've read a couple hundred espionage thrillers in my time, and this one ranks in the bottom half of the pile.
While the story line of "A Most Wanted Man" and most of the characters were all very contemporary in a setting (Hamburg, Germany) appropriate to modern day terrorist tensions, the story itself was simple, though obscure, equivocal, and ambiguous. The tale needed grand scale elaboration to fill the pages, which was provided. The "voice" of the book varies back and forth from forceful to pedantic, and ends without a clear single voice. The language varies from slangy ordinariness to the philosophical erudite. (Why give the German speakers a "print accent?") At times the "plot" is so obscure as to be unfathomable.
The German characters, to my mind, were ----- well, so "German," and by that I mean they all fit some ghastly stereotype already existing in the reader's head. For some reason I expected the primary characters to have much more depth and breadth and had hoped that this author would escape the standard, awful time-worn and discredited characterizations of Germans. From "masculine" women to stiff-backed, unemotional and scheming men (whose real selves showed up only in their silent thinking -- but not in their words or actions), we are deluged with these oh-too-German-Germans. I had to suspend belief of their shallowness in order to get even mildly wrapped up in their rather interesting antics. Le Carre seems really to have had a hard time escaping his apparent habits as a writer of "cold war" espionage and the too-easy-to-stereotype East Germans of the time. The Americans, at the end, were also "so American!" Ugh! And Issa, the main character? He was bizarre, a bit crazy, wholly unbelievable, and was a major disappointment. Annabel was psychologically tortured and lacked credibility, a woman who way too easily sold out her brittle beliefs and was never once true to herself, except at some fleeting incomprehensible moments. The British? The Muslims? The Russians? The Turks? Others? Can't we escape these awful stereotypes? All were disappointingly and decidedly cookie-cutter. I was simply unable to "like" any of them, especially the primary players. A couple of the minor players were appealing, however, especially the two Turks (the mother and her son) who sheltered Issa at the beginning. Brue's wife was also interesting. Funny how the cameo players turned out to be more interesting than those in the main cast!
The final 80+ pages actually moved along rapidly with rising tension and danger. That was good. For the first time in a long time, I did not read (half way through the book) the final 5 pages to see who was still alive and kicking at the end. Kudos to Le Carre for that! Nonetheless, all the players, the institutions and their interests were so confusing and blurry that I had trouble keeping track of who was who and what their actions meant. Why don't these espionage thriller authors do what any sane playwright does and provide a list of players and their roles at the beginning?
The plot is obscure to a fault. And it's all about money, from start to finish. The people are unnecessarily mysterious and enigmatic. The interplay among them and their various national, institutional, personal, religious or ethnic interests were confusing and convoluted. The reader is included in enlightening plot details only when Le Carre decided to let us in on what's going on. While extraordinarily different one from the other, in the final analysis all characters were selfish and ethno-centered to their own disastrous ends. The primary characters were ALL neurotic, despotic and at a fundamental level - in print - quite uninteresting. There were no memorable lines to underline and mull over, no moments of clarity of any philosophy, no insight into human values, and little promise in any of the endless philosophizing by several primary voices. What drove these people to their inhuman and often crazed ends completely escaped me. No action, no moral philosophy and no motivation in these totally despicable people redeems. They're all unsavory, dishonest and in the final analysis -- unnecessary.
The end was a total let-down, a huge disappointment, vague and unsatisfying
So why read it? The author is renowned. The book is very well written. It's a story that promised to provide fictional entertainment about espionage and terrorism in this dangerous age of the early 2000's. Good enough reasons? Maybe. Maybe not.
- Profound and shallow at the same time.
John Le Carre's A Most Wanted Man begins strong by introducing us to a multi-faceted and realistic description of Melik and his mother's life as Turkish immigrants in a post 9/11 Europe. And complicating this precarious situation is Issa, a Chechen stowaway who forces himself into their lives, leading to unwanted complications. The novel then introduces us to the other main protagonists, Annabel Richter, a human rights lawyer for a non-governmental organization and Tommy Brue, an English private banker. They get involved with Issa, and eventually the heads of British, German and American intelligence services since their mutual client (Issa) is a suspected terrorist.
Essentially, the novel depicts the machinations of the different intelligence services in the war against terror and the mostly undesirable repercussions of their policies among bystanders and innocents. It is an interesting read by itself, given the depth and insightful descriptions of Brue's and Richter's motivations and doubts, but since it comes with the marque of John Le Carre, the reader is expecting more. What we get is a fairly humdrum, ordinary snapshot of what happens to ants when elephants dance, with a lot of repetitive descriptions of the characters inner musings and flaws.
A Most Wanted Man is a novel of contradictions. It's a profound character study but the plot is quite shallow. It's short but it tends to be drawn out. It begins strong and ends weakly. It is a novel by a master but comes off like a novice....more info
- Good story but trite ending - disappointing
Having read almost every LeCarre novel, I found this one developed a good story line, but the author used the last few pages to take a swipe at the US by showing the american characters as cowboys without true intelligence/information. The ending was ruined for me by overtly derogatory statements by the author.
I think in his later years LeCarre must have started reading and believing Ian Fleming's Bond novels....more info