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Customer Review

I first picked up A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY in the late 60s, but, finding it too slow, couldn't finish. My appreciation of John le Carre having increased over the years, I recently gave it another go.
The book is set in the then West German capital of Bonn during the heyday of the Cold War. The British Embassy is beset with a number of mysterious disappearances: a document trolley, a tea machine, an electric fan, and some cups from the Caf. Oh, and a twenty-plus year employee named Otto Harting and a Top Secret "Green File". Meanwhile, on the other side of the embassy fence, a West German industrialist, Karfeld, is inflaming the populace with nationalist speeches, advocating stronger ties with Moscow, and undermining Bundesrepublik support for Britain's entry into the Common Market.
Has Harting bolted to Moscow? The Foreign Office in London dispatches its troubleshooter, Alan Turner, to Bonn to ferret out some answers.
Like le Carre's other books, A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY is short on action and long on character and plot development. For these very reasons, my appreciation of his later books, especially TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE, both featuring the author's most famous hero, George Smiley, lead me to think that my literary tastes have matured over the years, at least when it comes to trashy novels. If the reader of this book squints, he may perhaps see in Turner's dogged pursuit of the puzzle pieces a forerunner of the Smiley character, though the latter is infinitely more subtle and imperturbable. And Turner is not above slapping a lady in his quest for the Truth. Such conduct would be anathema to George, always the gentleman.
That Turner never endears himself to the reader is perhaps the novel's greatest shortcoming. More than that, however, is the fact that the plot is dated. Germany is now re-united, and the capital moved back to Berlin. Bonn is once more a relative backwater. Powerful Germans with an unsavory Nazi past are practically extinct. Moscow is no longer homebase to the pesky KGB and center of the Evil Empire. But the Brits, God love 'em, having told the rest of Europe to take their euros and stuff it, are still stolidly aloof in their island fortress (despite the Chunnel).
A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY, a must read for all le Carre fans, isn't one of his best efforts when compared to later works. But, I did finish it the second time around!
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