141 of 150 people found the following review helpful
on 27 September 2008
Unbelievable to think it now, but the feeling a few years ago was that Le Carre and his fellow spy writers would struggle for storylines with the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War. But the numerous civil wars around the world, particularly in Africa and Asia, and the west's War on Terror have proven a most fertile ground for new plots.
All the action in `A Most Wanted Man' takes place in Hamburg, where an emaciated, illegal Chechen muslim immigrant, Issa Karpov, persuades a Turkish mother and son to take him in after following the son around for a few days.
Issa bears all the signs of having recently been tortured and he's a wanted man both in Sweden (from where he was smuggled in) and his homeland. Helped by human rights lawyer Annabel Richter, and Tommy Brue, a Scottish private banker who operates in the city, he apparently wishes only to qualify as a doctor to help those back home. He appears to be the son of a deceased Russian gangster, who opened an illegal account (a `Lipizzaner' - like the horse) with Tommy Brue's father back in Vienna before the bank relocated. And now Issa wishes to use that 'bad' money (some $12.5m) for the greater good. The German, British and American secret services are aware of him and in turn, wish to use HIM as bait to capture a bigger prize...
The plot is as complex as we've come to expect from the grand old man, and the humour just as sly and knowing. The motives of the leading players are deliberately hidden and almost right up until the very last page we're clueless as to how it will all end up.
He's great at portraying the duplicity, triplicity and even quadriplicity (I almost certainly made at least one of these words up!) in the spy world, and how no one can be taken at face value. Here the German, British and American spooks seem to reach an uneasy agreement on how to best exploit the position, but they're all still fighting their own corner and have very differing motives.
Let's talk about the prose quality: no other espionage writer comes close to matching the style, wit and erudition of Le Carre. He's 77 years old this year, but still very much the master craftsman, creating a mood or conjuring up a location with just a few carefully chosen words.
Stella Rimmington, ex-MI5 chief-turned novelist recently had a go at this new Le Carre novel in the Daily Mail, praising his 'readability' and writing style (she could hardly do anything else) but giving him only four out of ten for realism. Well nuts to you Ms Rimmington, I'm not particularly bothered if the old boy's grasp of modern secret service protocol and/or operating methods are a bit outmoded. This is how I want my Le Carre to be - old school - and proud of it - but still with a finger on the pulse of modern issues. I've never read any of your novels but I suspect you won't be praised and still read in fifty years time like this guy.
It's not `The Spy Who Came in From the Cold', but it is still great entertainment. Few fans will be disappointed with this. David John Cornwell, we salute you!
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Afficiandos of the John le Carre spy novel come in at least three basic types. There are many who savor a contemporary, stylish and intriguing plot with fully drawn (and inevitably fallible) characters. There are those who simply appreciate good writing. And then some who expect both.
None will be disappointed by A Most Wanted Man.
In this, his 21st novel, Le Carre returns to his roots: to a post-Cold War Germany and the internecine warfare of competing intelligence agencies (both domestic and international), balancing the conflicting consequences of illegal immigration, religion and the War on Terror.
Le Carre's unique literary style - long, complex, descriptive word paintings (the antithesis of modern, crisp journalism and airport potboiler novels) - draws the reader in from the first page. All his characters, whether principal players or bit parts, emerge fully rounded in all their capabilities and flaws. Each is human, realistic and memorable.
The plot is tantalising. Who is "this most wanted man"? Whom are we to like? Whom to trust? Apparently innocent bystanders, struggling to survive in the new Europe and wanting to believe in their future, are drawn into the action and suffer collateral damage in a contest that is superficially about terrorism but in reality between competing, morally corrupt intelligence agencies - the cream of the espiocracy.
Le Carre slowly, carefully unpeels his onion, layer by layer, to expose its inevitable, venal core. However in his world of deceit, disillusion and bureaucratic testosterone there are ultimately no winners, no solutions, no happy endings. Le Carre's world is not like that.
65 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2008
Despite the fact that he made his reputation writing about the duels between NATO intelligence agencies and their Soviet counterparts, no-one could accuse John Le Carré of failing to adapt to the end of the Cold War: with books like The Constant Gardener, Single & Single and The Mission Song (Bookgeeks review), he has explored international money laundering, the Russian mafia, corrupt pharmaceutical research in Africa and foreign involvement in the interminable civil wars of the Congo. Now, with A Most Wanted Man, we have his first true post-9/11 novel, an examination of the differing responses of Western intelligence agencies to the threats posted by Islamist terrorism.
The setting is Hamburg, present day. The lives of a Turkish family, Melik and his mother Leyla, are interrupted by the arrival of Issa, a scrawny refugee, on the run from the Swedish authorities and bearing the scars of torture from incarceration in a Turkish prison. Issa claims to be a devout Muslim, fleeing from the fighting in Chechnya, but parts of his story don't stack up: he doesn't speak the Chechynyan language, and aspects of his religious practice are distinctly awry. Troubled by the presence of this mysterious waif, Melik and Leyla contact asylum specialists Sanctuary North, and get Issa a lawyer to try and regularise his immigration status. Issa explains to his lawyer, Annabel Richter, that he carries in a pouch round his neck the means to access a bank account at the private bank of Brue Freres plc, which will enable him to pursue his dream of studying to be a doctor. Thus we meet Tommy Brue, last of his line, a banker to the wealthy and powerful, saddled with his father's legacy in more ways than one.
Brue's private bank is the holder of a special type of account: the Lipizzaner, so called because like the famous horses, the money starts out black and turns white with age. These accounts were instituted by his father, Edward Amadeus Brue, as a means for corrupt Soviet officials to move money out from behind the Iron Curtain during the collapse of Communism and launder it, and Brue's not particularly fond of their existence - so it's with mixed feelings that he greets the news that a claimant to the last account in existence has turned up. Perhaps given the state of his marriage, he's fascinated by the upright, proper Annabel Richter, and agrees to meet with Issa to establish his credentials as the claimant to a fabulously large sum of money.
Of course, the German intelligence services have been watching the comings and goings around Issa with a great deal of interest - they don't know what to make of him, and consider him likely to a Jihadi. When Issa is drawn to the attention of Gunther Bachmann, an experienced field operative and agent runner, he perceives the beginning of an opportunity to do something that Western spooks have conspicuously failed to achieve: recruit and run an agent or agents inside the Islamist terror networks that represented a substantial threat worldwide. Bachmann steers approval of his plan through the factionalised German secret intelligence apparatus, and soon Annabel Richter is presented with the stark reality that she has no choice but to co-operate with them in using Issa to reach the target of the operation, a Muslim cleric believed to be involved in funding terror through charities. Meanwhile, Tommy Brue has been visited by British intelligence, and he too is co-opted. From this point forwards, Issa, Annabel and Tommy are unwitting and unwilling participants in the machinations of the German, British and American intelligence agencies.
Le Carré imbues his characters with plenty of depth, and the unspoken love triangle that is forming between the three central characters lends added poignancy to the events that follow; for despite the apparent success of the climactic operation, the Americans intervene in a style that is more Jack Bauer than George Smiley, undermining the assurances given to the parties involved. It's not difficult to read this book as a parable for how the intelligence community, through a comprehensive failure of empathy, an unwilligness or inability to run agent networks, and a heavyhanded if nor downright inhuman approach to information gathering, has proved itself unworthy to meet the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. But that doesn't change the fact that it's also an affecting and wonderfully crafted story about human relationships under strained circumstances. It's proof, though none should be needed, that John Le Carré has transcended the confines of the spy thriller to become one of our best, and most successful, novelists.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
With the possible exception of one young German lawyer there are no revolutionary acts in John Le Carre's "A Most Wanted Man". Rather, we have high-level functionaries from German, British, and US intelligence agencies for whom deceit is the norm and truth plays, at best, a secondary role in acting in what is or may be in each country's national interest. In tone and substance this is not much different from Le Carre's Cold War fiction. The trick is to see whether the same cynical realism plays as well in today's `war on terror'. Le Carre's transition from the Cold War to the brave new world post-9/11 is excellent. The result is a book that is dark, cynical, and almost as rewarding as the best of Le Carre's earlier fiction.
The most wanted man in question is Issa. Issa is the product of the rape of a Chechnyan woman by a Red Army Colonel stationed in Chechnya. Raised by his father in Russia, Issa flees to the west after his father dies. Issa finds his way to Hamburg and despite his famished look it appears that Issa has connection to money and influence. He is also, apparently, a Muslim and because of his Chechnyan heritage he is identified by Russian intelligence agencies as a suspected terrorist. German, US, and British intelligence agencies based in Hamburg quickly identify him as a person of interest. The other main protagonists are Annabel Richter and Tommy Brue. Richter is a newly qualified attorney who has foregone work in private practice to work for a German civil rights organization created to assist immigrants and refugees in normalizing their status in Germany. Brue is a private banker whose bank is the depository of the significant funds Issa may lay claim to.
Le Carre does a wonderful job portraying Issa, Richter, and Brue. Issa is a total cipher. He has a naïve innocence about him (think of Chance from Jerzy Kosinki's Being There) that takes the reader in one direction in assessing his motives and the real reason for his presence in Germany. Yet there are enough anomalies and discrepancies in his story and in his remarks to Richter and Brue that make you go, "hold on a moment, there's more here than meets the eye." Richter is something of a naif, her idealism tends to obscure her ability to cast a truly critical eye over the gaps in Issa's story.
Tennyson once wrote:
"That a lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies;
That a lie which is all a lie may be met and fought with outright;
But a lie which is part a truth is a harder matter to fight."
Le Carre writes with exquisite precision and insight about a world in which truth is not a matter worth fighting for. Highly recommended. L. Fleisig
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I've long been among the first in line for the new John le Carre, so was pleased to find this book on sale for half price at Waterstones last week. Throughout a long writing career (this novel is his 21st), le Carre has continued to return to the themes of deception and betrayal and, although he's used an interesting variety of geographical locations for his settings, those of us who've spent a long time immersed in his world have started to identify common characteristics in his dramatis personae. Thus, in this story, the befuddled Englishman who tries to do the right thing has echoes of, amongst others, Harry Pendel in The Tailor of Panama, Ted Mundy in Absolute Friends and Tim Cranmer in Our Game. And the attractive idealistic female lawyer is strongly reminiscent of Tessa Quayle in The Constant Gardener.
But these links to older books don't mean that le Carre's running out of ideas, or is merely turning out variations on those same themes. Although he returns explicitly to the privations of the war on terror here (which he last visited in 2003's Absolute Friends) he's still as original and contemporary as ever. Part of this comes from his choice of Hamburg as a setting; one of his characters helpfully reminds his audience (and some of the book's readers) that Mohammed Atta was a worshipper in one of this city's mosques. And, in an aside that sounds devastatingly - even uncannily - up-to-date in these troubled times, another character in the banking business is heard worrying about the subprime mortgage market.
One of the memorable things le Carre said during a rare public speaking appearance in London last week was that he always wanted to be writing in the present, to be as relevant and contemporary as possible. Judging from this important contribution to an impressive body of work, I'd say that he's succeeded once again.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I have to admit I haven't read any Le Carré in years -- and after this book, I doubt I will for years to come. In simple terms, it's the story of a half-Chechen illegal immigrant in Hamburg who is trying to lay claim on the considerable loot his dead father (a Russian military officer) salted away in a private bank. He manages to find legal aid in the form of a humorless, well-connected female lawyer, who acts as his intermediary in discussions with the 60ish English banker who controls this "dirty" account. At the same time, it tells a parallel story of competing German intelligence agencies seeking the Chechen as a possible terrorist, and the eventual involvement of British and American espionage agencies.
Actually, that description probably makes the book sound better than it is. The big flaw is that several of the key characters, especially the lawyer and the Chechen claimant, are both thinly drawn and really annoying. For the majority of the book, the Chechen is erratic and enigmatic, and I kept waiting for Le Carré to do a big reveal and let us in on what his true nature is -- alas, this never happens. That's kind of the problem with the whole book -- it builds very very slowly, almost teasing the reader with its deliberate pace and shadowy corners, only to climax in an incredibly weak ending.
Which is not to say the book is totally without bright spots. The banker character is reasonably sympathetic and compelling, as is the main German intelligence agent (both are assisted by coolly able women, who are fun supporting cast members in their own right). And despite the thinness of many characters, Le Carré still manages to do a nice job getting at the psychology of the post-9/11 intelligence community. One insight that's particularly striking is how quickly our principles can be dismantled by cynical and efficient state security apparatus. And the workings of that apparatus are fairly interesting to observe, in a procedural way. Unfortunately, since we never care about the characters, it's not that dramatically compelling when they are levered away from their principles.
The book's other major flaw -- the ending -- is difficult to discuss in a way that won't spoil the book. Some have complained about the abruptness of it -- but for me the jarring lack of narrative closure it imposes is actually a canny choice. The real problem is that while it's an ending that is true to the reality of some of the worst excesses (crimes even) perpetrated under the guise of national security in the post 9/11 era, it's also a gratuitous and unsophisticated one. You could argue that the contrast in tone between the body of the book and the ending is a deliberate one, but it all feels more rushed than anything else.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 November 2012
I've never read any Le Carre books before and it appears according to a lot of the reviews that I've picked one of the worst to start with. I was given this book to read for my Library Reading Group.
I struggled with the first half of the book and at one point almost gave up on it. I found it quite confusing as there were lots of characters involved with this story and to me none of them really stood out. I didn't really feel the relationship between Issa and Annabel to be very believable at all.
I did however find the second half of the book a little better although there was no real tension to the story and it all seemed rather pedestrian, as another reviewer states it's almost like a Painting by Numbers story. I wouldn't say the story was badly written at all, just that it wasn't that original a concept.
I have got the Constant Gardener somewhere and I will read it at some point to compare the two stories.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 2009
Reading a le Carre novel is like learning to play chess. It takes time to learn the names of the pieces and how they move. It's easy to be put off at this stage - but those who put the effort in at this stage will be rewarded with a stimulating, intellectual battle where it's not clear who's winning until the final move. Le Carre manages to recreate all the tensions and double-crossing of the Cold War scenario with this bang-up-to-date thriller. Checkmate!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2009
This was a book that I couldn't quite decide on, sometimes I thought it first class, at other times it frustrated me. It's very well written, and in that respect typical Le Carre, twists, deceptions and sub plots even a German George Smiley type. However, in the end I didn't really care much about what happened to the main characters and found them lacking in depth. As for the supporting cast, stereotype seems to be the most appropriate word, in particular the Americans and it would have been better had some time been devoted to the American decision making process so that the ending made some more sense than it did. To be honest in the end it felt like a book in which the Author had lost interest and drawn to a lazy conclusion. Sorry Wanted to like it more but didn't.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2014
Young Chechen Issa, committed Muslim, comes in Hamburg and evokes suspicion in the German spy community for possible links to Islamic militants. Annabel Richter, a German human rights lawyer, is trying to help him to stay in the country and come to the inherited money that his father left him in a secret account which is controlled by 60-year-old British banker Tommy Brue.
For Issa interested are rival intelligence services of Germany, Great Britain and US. Every intelligence agency has its own theory who is actually this young Chechen who wants to become a doctor and his associates, and finally they will decide on their fate.
'A Most Wanted Man' is a thriller and spy novel that deals with human rights in today's Germany. Le Carré, although making his writing career on the spy novels of the Cold War era and US – Russia confrontations, in this novel shows he is still doing great job in the post Cold War world.
On example on this young Chechen, moreover a devout Muslim who comes to Western civilization le Carré gives evidence there are always gray areas of human rights and that spy agencies are still active. In addition, the author returns to his roots - post Cold War Germany and work of spy agencies, domestic and foreign, while in the center he puts conflict between illegal immigration, religion and the war on terror.
Le Carré has a unique literary style - long, complex sentences with which he slowly draws the reader into the story. His characters are authentic, with all their strengths and weaknesses, while each character is human and therefore realistic.
Issa is one character who stands out. Issa was tortured both mentally and physically, but has a large sum of money that he doesn’t want. The reader will ask her/himself: who is this most wanted man? An Islamic terrorist that pose a threat to Germany or just young man who wants to become a doctor in Hamburg? Who to believe? Why he became so interesting for the secret services, which should work in favor of the people? The author slowly reveals the entire background of the story, but in this world of bureaucracy, many misconceptions and disappointments there are no winners, no solutions, and in particular no happy endings.
Le Carré world is simply not like that.