Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carre (Viking)


“Our meeting was not contrived.”

I AM on page 278 of 281 and I am still no wiser as to where this whodunwhat of a plot is going. There have been twists and turns and upshots and cross checks so you might feel like the ventriloquist’s dummy on John Le Carre’s lap. You have been Lecarried. Again.

We are back in the rolled up newspapers under the arm, meetings on street corners, checking the rear view mirrors, but there is a more passionate, even personal undertone here, more than is the norm for Le Carre’s careful dissections of political underworlds. In essence this is a Brexit novel. Topical.

In short:

“Orson was about to use his Park Lane duplex to impress a duo of Cyprus-based Moscow friendly money launderers of Slovakian descent with a private bank in Nicosia and an affiliate in the City of London.”

 From there it all unravels pretty quickly as the retiring agent Nat’s small world implodes with intrigues.

He has returned to London after years posted abroad on twilight missions, his loyalty being tested on all sides. Who is he?

  • “You a London man then, Nat? Ed asks as we settle to our pints
  • I acknowledge that I am indeed such a man”

The Circus has been replaced by anonymous sounding bureaucracies of Operations Directorate, London General, The Haven. He has to rebuild his relationship with his formidable lawyer wife Prue and daughter Steff whom he courts again on the T-bar of a ski lift. It is all very real, believable and set against the backdrop of intelligence dealing with Trump, Putin, Europe. The cold war seems much simpler. These conspiracies are more cutting in that they are up to date.

It unfolds at a pace but between passages there is room just to include today’s concerns and as you might expect from a master of intelligence not things that are being discussed elsewhere (or not in public).

Nat’s private passion is badminton, something he defends valiantly.

“For unbelievers, badminton is a namby-pamby version of squash for overweight men afraid of heart attacks, For true believers there is no other sport. Squash is slash and burn. Badminton is stealth, patience, speed and improbably recovery.”

A spy with a hobby. And a family. Baggage to deal with…and that ending when it comes sure enough has another twist and leaves the door just enough ajar to suggest a sequel, another day in the sun, even if Sir John has just turned an impressive 88.

Most of all it is about identity and allegiance in a destablised world.

A news in brief paragraph in the Metro the other night reported how two Russian diplomats had been sent back to Moscow after the assassination of a former Chechen leader in Berlin. So maybe not so much fiction, after all..




About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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