by John Le Carré
I don’t do a lot of rereading these days (time is short and the world of new books that I want to read is large), but an author whose books I find myself returning to time and again is John Le Carré. My absolute favorite is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but I also love The Night Manager, The Constant Gardener, Smiley’s People, A Perfect Spy; really pretty much all his novels except The Honourable Schoolboy, which I remember as being so unbearably sad that I’ve never been able to bring myself to pick it up again. I reread Le Carré so often because I appreciate and share his jaundiced view of human motives (especially when it comes to the machinations of governments), and enjoy watching how that all plays out within the intricate plots he dreams up. From his early novels on, he’s made no effort to hide his skepticism and disapproval regarding many of the sub rosa activities carried out by Her Majesty’s spy service, Britain’s MI6, nor his frequent unhappiness about MI6’s relationship with its American cousins (that would be our CIA.) Bush administration supporters be forewarned: in this book, like his last one, Le Carré makes no secret of the fact that he despises what America’s government has been up to in its effort to deal with the threat of international terrorism in the post 9/11 world.
In A Most Wanted Man (Scribner, 2008), Le Carré plays with a convention that Alfred Hitchcock also favored — that of the innocent man caught up in events that will either make him or break him. Issa, an illegal Muslim immigrant, half–Russian, half–Chechen, arrives in Hamburg, Germany, stating that his only desire is to become a doctor so he can return to Chechnya and practice medicine among those who need him most. His world collides with Tommy Brue’s when Annabel, a young, idealistic, and very attractive German civil rights lawyer who is working to prevent Issa’s deportation by the German government, discovers that Issa has evidence linking his own father, a former Soviet general, with Tommy’s father, who began Brue Freres, a private British bank now located in Hamburg. Soon the representatives of various national spy services begin to gather. Is Issa who he says he is, or is he part of a terrorist plot to wreak havoc and rain death on western countries? The Germans, nervous about young Muslim illegals, want him off their soil as quickly as possible. They’re especially sensitive about the fact that he’s come to Hamburg, since many of the terrorists involved in 9/11 lived and planned their terrorist activities in that city. The British government wants to use Issa for its own ends, while the Americans know in their heart of hearts he’s lying from the word go. The novel, like all of Le Carré’s oeuvre, is both suspenseful and cynical. I found that I dreaded turning every page because I was afraid of what was going to happen to Tommy, Annabel, and Issa, but I couldn’t stop reading it.