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A Most Wanted Book
A Most Wanted Man - John le Carré
Member Name: monkeyboy2
A Most Wanted Man - John le Carré
Advantages: Has something to say, the author is an old pro
Disadvantages: Lacks a little lustre
John le Carre is the best-selling author most famous for his cold war spy novels 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' and 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'. This is his 2008 story about the War on Terror.
Big Melik is a Turkish heavyweight boxer living in Hamburg with his mother Leyla. Both of them are decent people living a quiet life and want most of all for their application for German citizenship to be finally accepted.
On the other side of town, Mr Tommy Brue is the owner of Brue Freres plc, a small bank now based in the city, and fast approaching his retirement with both dread and relief. Brue is the very picture of success and yet he feels empty and is deeply bored with his routine working life and the stilted marriage with his possibly adulterous wife.
Annabel Richter is a young lawyer. Turning her back on family wealth, she is now legal counsel at Sanctuary North, a Christian Foundation that works for the protection of stateless and displaced persons in the region of North Germany.
And Gunther Bachmann is a veteran spy, demoted from his high-status work in Beirut, Mogadishu and Aden and now working in domestic intelligence in Hamburg, of all places, instead of Berlin. Bachmann has a brilliant practical mind and years of experience in the field, yet he is new to the much murkier world of inter-agency politics.
What brings them all together is the arrival in Hamburg of young Issa Karpov, a malnourished Chechen with a Russian surname. Issa has been seriously tortured and still carries the physical and mental scars inside his oversized coat as he trudges the streets of Hamburg, searching for a banker named Tommy Brue...
I won't give any more away as this is one of those books that is impossible to confidently predict. Will everything work out or will it all go tits up? The author keeps you guessing as the plot elements unfold to reveal who did what to whom and whose side everyone is on.
Stylistically, this is a classic case of an aging author writing with such confidence that it comes across as somewhat lazy. Veteran authors have a tendency to use fewer words to tell the story and to be more impressionistic with description. And that's fine, they've put the work in, give em a break, I say. But still, at times in this book it's as if le Carre is turning to you with a wink and saying "look, its not real life and you know this is a novel, I know it's a novel, can we just move on now?". It doesn't ruin it but a little more effort would have been a huge improvement. Much of the plot is moved on through dialogue, which is a faster way to write but can be a little tedious to read. It moves along at a fairly brisk pace, changing character view points to keep things interesting, there's a whiff of love and a sprinkling of humour. Le Carre is an old pro for sure.
Subject-wise, this is marketed as a book about the War on Terror. I even said as much above. But it isn't really. It's only about a small part of it - though some would argue the most important part. What this novel does do is fully illustrate the effect that the anti-terrorism hysteria of 'the state' has upon individuals that find themselves targeted and abused purely on the basis of their faith or ethnic origins.
Le Carre worked in for MI6 in Hamburg in the early sixties and he clearly knows the city very well, despite the massive changes to it that time. However, and more importantly, he clearly doesn't know anything about how the German intelligence system actually works in the 21st Century. I'm not saying I do, I haven't got a clue, it's just that it's obvious from the glaring lack of detail that the guy's totally winging it. That fact doesn't detract overly much from the novel but it means it doesn't have the air of authenticity that le Carre's earlier spy novels do.
However, one thing that has a crystal-clear ping of authenticity is the unapologetic ruthlessness of people in the Intelligence business. What we learn about that subject from this novel is: most Intelligence people are utter bastards, and the American ones are the biggest bastards of them all. Nothing new there, then, sure, but creating believable, sympathetic characters and dropping them into that harsh world really tugs at the old heart strings. These Intelligence people really do not care one jot that they will inevitably abduct, torture and detain innocent men while trying to catch 'proper terrorists'. In fact, the strategy is actually to monitor and if possible round up anyone with views that are labelled by the state as 'extremist' - real life Thought Police in action. And that strategy is certainly self-defeating as increasing numbers get fed up with this persecution and sympathise more with those 'extremist' views. In this book, the only ruthless terrorists are those that work in Intelligence. It's surprising to me that this old establishment figure and cold war veteran holds that opinion but I respect him all the more for it.
It's a good book and well worth a read. It doesn't get a higher rating only because it's a little bit lacklustre here and there.
Summary: Worth reading