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Tag: John le Carré

Steinhauer on le Carre

Olen Steinhauer on John le Carre’s A Delicate Truth:

The spymaster-as-hero is gone, replaced by the whistle-blower, the outsider who retains enough of his heart to be appalled by the slaughter of strays. In Cairo they’re the young trash collectors living on the city’s edge, but in Gibraltar they’re even more insignificant: one mother and her child, around whom the whole novel rotates, and for whom le Carre’s rage simmers. By the end of A Delicate Truth, you either share his anger at the injustices between its covers, or you don’t. If you do, then you’re one of le Carre’s people. If not, you’re one of Smiley’s. It’s up to you to decide which one is more worthy.

Book Trailer: A Delicate Truth by John Le Carre

I confess I haven’t read a Le Carre book since, what, The Secret Pilgrim? But perhaps I should give him another try …

A Delicate Truth

John Le Carre

Viking Adult

Release date: May 7, 2013


Book Trailer: A Delicate Truth by John Le Carre

I confess I haven’t read a Le Carre book since, what, The Secret Pilgrim? But perhaps I should give him another try …

A Delicate Truth

John Le Carre

Viking Adult

Release date: May 7, 2013


Red Star Rising by Brian Freemantle

When it comes to espionage fiction I am usually in the cold dark and gray camp. LeCarre (early not late), Deighton, etc. so Brian Freemantle’s Charlie Muffin seemed in my wheelhouse.

Despite my preferecne of reading a character of series in order I decided to read Red Star Rising without having read any of the previous books.

It turned out to be classic cold war spy fiction even though it was set in post war Europe. Here is the plot summary from the dust jacket:

The body of a murdered, tortured Russian has been found in Moscow, which isn’t unusual in the crime-ridden city. What is different is that this corpse is on the lawn of the British embassy.

Eager to prevent an international incident, London dispatches veteran MI5 agent Charlie Muffin to investigate. Charlie is an old hand who recognizes that little has changed in the post–Soviet Union, most definitely not the espionage enmity between Russia, Britain, and America. The search for the identity of the murdered man enmeshes Charlie in what might be the biggest attempted espionage coup of his career.

Being in Moscow has very personal implications for Charlie, too. It provides the opportunity for a re-union with his Russian wife, Natalia, and their young daughter, whom he had to abandon because of a hurried recall to the UK five years earlier. It’s also the chance to persuade the reluctant Natalia, an officer in Russia’s FSB intelligence service, to return with him to London.

In classic spy fiction fashion Charlie is fighting the bad guys, often his superiors and his own demons/past. On top of this you have a constantly shifting set of puzzle pieces that he has to put together.

On a basic level there is the mystery of the dead body. On another level is the internal-politics and security of the embassy. And over it all is the geopolitical maneuvering motivating it all. And if this is not enough Charlie is attempting to put his family back together.

Freemantle does a good job of weaving all of this threads together and keeping the pace moving. Just when you think you have a handle on what is going on the puzzle pieces move and you have to rethink. And it is never clear, to Charlie or the reader, just exactly what Charlie really wants professionally or personaly.

Booklist has a nice description of Charlie and the book:

Alternately cautious and daring, self-critical, pragmatic, and fatalistically idealistic, the maverick Muffin will appeal to fans of John le Carré’s George Smiley and to readers of classic espionage novels. The USSR is now Russia, and the KGB is now the FSB, but this is still a story of telephone booths and old-school spycraft—old-school quality, too.

If I had one complaint it was that the twists and turns at the end threatened to overwhelm the story. It gets rather complicated and convoluted by the end. Freemantle pulls it off but it is a bit much.

That aside, fans of classic espionage fiction will enjoy this version updated to the post-cold war world.

The Ghost War by Alex Berenson

Cover of "The Ghost War"

Cover of The Ghost War

You had to think Alex Berenson felt a little pressure on his second book.  The first won an Edgar Award after all and ended with its hero saving New York City from a biological attack.  How to top that?

In The Ghost War Berenson continues the exploits of John Wells while mixing in a little more geopolitical tension.  Here is how Publishers Weekly describes it:

Having foiled an al-Qaeda plot targeting Times Square in 2006’s The Faithful Spy (which won an Edgar Award for best first novel), maverick CIA agent John Wells confronts a very different threat in this pulse-pounding sequel from New York Times reporter Berenson. When the CIA’s efforts to extract Dr. Sung Kwan, a North Korean scientist and an invaluable source on Kim Jong Il’s nuclear ambitions, result in the deaths of Kwan and the rescue team, Wells’s significant other, Jennifer Exley, searches to identify the person in U.S. intelligence who compromised Kwan’s security. Meanwhile, Wells returns to Afghanistan, the scene of much of the action in The Faithful Spy, to find out what outside country has been helping the Taliban reassert itself. While the mole hunt will be familiar to genre buffs and the characters and the perils they face aren’t as nuanced as those in John le Carré or even David Ignatius, the author’s plausible scenario distinguishes this from most spy thrillers.

If the first book was focused on the character of Wells, the second book is propelled more by the looming conflict between China and the US.  It also introduces the stress and strains involved in the relationship between Wells and Exley.

Berenson continues to give you a variety of perspectives as you see the action through the eyes of multiple characters.  As the plot points touched on by PW above reveal, he builds up a series of seemingly unrelated but ultimately interconnected threats and/or plot threads.  North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, and China all play a part.

But the big picture is China.  The tension builds as Berenson lays out a plausible scenario whereby the US and China could find themselves on the brink of war.

More below.

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