A bleak, unusual and compelling thriller. Fans of le Carre will know not to expect car chases and glamour, but this novel also has little of the complexity, puzzle-solving and intrigue of his better known spy stories. The plot is fairly simple: a small and out-of-favour military intelligence department in London have a potentially huge discovery on their hands - an unconfirmed and sketchy report of Soviet missiles being stored in East Germany (the period is Cold War, early sixties). In a bid to confirm the discovery - and regain some of their former status and credibility - the department decides to find and train an agent to go over the border, something they have not done for many years. The majority of the book is taken up with the preparation and training for the mission and the shifting politics and loyalties of those involved. This provides a strange mix of convincing technical detail and le Carre's always excellent character sketches and observations on a certain type of English character. Without giving too much away of the story, the heart of the book is a study of ambition, resentment, jealousies and fading glories in the intelligence community during this period. The outcome of the mission is almost secondary, but the reader can discern the likely outcome as le Carre carefully reveals the endless possibilities of small details and judgements that can mean the difference between success and failure in this environment. In conclusion, not your average spy story, not typical le Carre, but still engrossing and worth a read.
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