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Wanted, but why, and by whom?
A Most Wanted Man - John le Carré
Member Name: sunmeilan
A Most Wanted Man - John le Carré
Advantages: An okay thriller
Disadvantages: Boring bits, characters flat
Issa Karpov is a most wanted man. Arriving in Hamburg illegally, destitute, starving and very ill, he manages to find a kind Turkish family who take him in and nurse him through his illness. He contacts a lawyer, Annabel Richter, who works for a firm specializing in illegal immigrants, and who, for personal reasons, is desperate to ensure that her client stays safe. This is not an easy task when he is apparently wanted by different intelligent agencies for much more than just being illegal, although no-one is quite sure what his crime is. Annabel calls in Tommy Brue, head of a private British bank, in which Issa has a personal interest. Can Annabel and Tommy keep Issa safe? Or is their protection actually putting him, and them, at risk?
Few people will not have heard of John le Carre, most famous for spy thrillers set during the Cold War Period, such as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Although now nearly 80, he has continued writing and his books continue to be made into films depicting more modern political issues - The Constant Gardener perhaps being the best-known in recent years. A Most Wanted Man was published in 2008 and has threads of Middle Eastern terrorism woven into it.
I am a big fan of John le Carre's work - I prefer his earlier novels, but I also really appreciated The Constant Gardener and The Tailor of Panama. Unfortunately, this book just doesn't have the same flair as most of his others and I struggled with it at times. The attempt to portray an up-to-date political situation is commendable, but I was left feeling a little confused. At times, the book could easily be set in the sixties or seventies, but then a little modern history and some modern day technology is thrown in to remind the reader that we are in the twenty-first century. It didn't seem to mix together very well and it was a strain to read.
Leading on from that, there were a number of passages that made me switch off while reading. These were primarily passages that tried to explain the banking system and how it affected Issa. I am quite ignorant when it comes to such topics, which could partly be why I found it so dull; nevertheless, an author of John le Carre's skill ought to be able to make it more interesting. At times, it felt as though he was simply going through the motions to ensure that the book had a more modern feel, when actually, he didn't really understand it himself. This is perhaps far from being the truth, but that is certainly the impression I was left with.
Carrying on with the negative theme, I didn't take to any of the characters. These include Issa, Annabel, Tommy and a intelligence operative (read spy) called Gunther Bachmann. Issa is dull as ditchwater, spouting quotes from the Koran and telling Annabel that he will convert her to Islam and then marry her. He obviously had a horrendous background, having spent time in numerous prisons over the years, but he still didn't appeal. Part of this is probably deliberate, to keep the story mysterious, but it was done at the risk of losing the reader, which in my case, it did. Annabel is initially described as being abrupt, short and dumpy, but then somehow turns into a beautiful swan with whom Tommy begins to fall in love. Her reasons for being so protective over Issa at the risk of ruining her career are vague and not all that convincing. Again, I should have felt something for her, but I didn't.
Tommy Brue is another strange character. A man nearing retirement, he has messed up his first marriage, is now married to a woman who doesn't love him and he hates his career. Again, his reasons for becoming involved in the case are unconvincing - it is explained, but it seems to have as much to do with his feelings for Annabel as it does anything else. His apparent desire to follow his sexual feelings rather than his head is not attractive and is just annoying, although I think the point was to give him a soft side that the others don't appear to have. Gunther Bachmann is an enigma. He appears to have a number of different guises, which makes sense considering his career, but generally comes across as being a cocky character who does his job for his own satisfaction, rather than any desire to achieve world peace.
The book isn't all bad. I didn't have too much of a problem finishing it and apart from the boring banking parts, the language flows well. I was hoping for a better ending though. I had a number of questions that I wanted answering, and ultimately they weren't. It is fairly explosive, but I didn't entirely understand what the point was. I suspect that it is partly to make out that the intelligence services these days are blurred, they aren't all working for the same goal, and they don't always do the right thing. However, things were so confused that it wasn't often clear just who was on which side and after a while, I began to lose interest - it just seemed easier to stop asking questions.
I was left disappointed by this book. I hold the author in high estimation, but this book didn't satisfy me and although I finished it, I was glad when I reached the end. I think this is a book for big fans, who are prepared to take the rough with the smooth. I haven't given up hope for the author yet - as long as he keeps writing, I will maintain an interest in his work, but this book is not one that I will turn to again. Issa Karpov may be a most wanted man, but he isn't wanted by me. Not recommended.
The book is available from play.com for £4.99. Published by Hodder & Stoughton, it has 432 pages. ISBN: 9780340977088
Summary: Disappointing for le Carre