She bangs the drums

14 10 2018

Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre

 

Charlie, a jobbing young English actress, is accustomed to playing different roles. But when the mysterious, battle-scarred Joseph recruits her into the Israeli secret services, she enters the dangerous ‘theatre of the real’.

Set in the tragic arena of the Middle East conflict, this compelling story of love and torn loyalties plays out against the backdrop of an unwinnable war.

What feels like a very long build up eventually delivers on its promise with a pretty gripping thriller. Charlie is a strange choice for a spy but plays a convincing part in an complicated and high-stakes plot to trap and kill a Palestinian. Le Carre provides what feels like an accurate picture of the Middle East at the time and uses it well as the backdrop to a not wholly uplifting tale.

We’ll have to see what the new TV series is like.

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Constancy

30 09 2017

The Constant Gardener

Tessa Quayle has been horribly murdered on the shores of Lake Turkana in Northern Kenya, the birthplace of mankind. Her putative African lover, a doctor with one of the aid agencies, has disappeared.

Her husband, Justin, a career diplomat and amateur gardener at the British High Commission in Nairobi, sets out on a personal odyssey in pursuit of the killers and their motive. His quest takes him to the Foreign Office in London, across Europe and Canada and back to Africa, to the depths of South Sudan, and finally to the very spot where Tessa died.

On his way Justin meets terror, violence, laughter, conspiracy and knowledge. But his greatest discovery is the woman he barely had time to love.

An intelligent and astute thriller which is also subtle, nuanced and insightful. Balancing the very human stories of the protagonists with critique of the colonial legacy and big pharma it is a thoroughly good read. Impressive work by Le Carre.

 

four stars

 





Nighty night

8 10 2016

The Night Manager by John le Carré

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At the start of it all, Jonathan Pine is merely the night manager at a luxury hotel. But when a single attempt to pass on information to the British authorities – about an international businessman at the hotel with suspicious dealings – backfires terribly, and people close to Pine begin to die, he commits himself to a battle against powerful forces he cannot begin to imagine.

In a chilling tale of corrupt intelligence agencies, billion-dollar price tags and the truth of the brutal arms trade, John le Carré creates a claustrophobic world in which no one can be trusted.

There are quite a few differences to the recent Hiddleston-led TV adaptation but the basic plot is pretty similar and the whole tale is equally gripping. Entertaining stuff.

four stars





All Smiles

14 11 2015

Smiley’s People by John Le Carre

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Into a shadowy, violent and intricate world steeped in moral ambivalences steps George Smiley – tubby, perceptive and morally perplexed as ever – sometime acting Chief of the Circus, as the Secret Service is known.
A Russian émigré woman is accosted in Paris in broad daylight by a Soviet intelligence officer. A scared Estonian boy plays courier in Hamburg. In London at the dead of night, George Smiley is summoned from his lonely bed by news of the murder of an ex-agent. His brief is to bury the crime, not solve it. His dilemma is the number of ghosts from the past who clamour to him from the shadows.
Through scenes of mounting revelation, and a cast of superbly drawn characters, through Switzerland, Hamburg, Paris and the fens of Schleswig-Holstein, le Carré rallies us irresistibly to the chase, till we find ourselves at Smiley’s very side on the Berlin border, where Smiley’s people – the ‘no-men of no-man’s land’ – conduct their grimy commerce.

Follow up to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy  this classic Cold War novel is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy. Having come late to these I nevertheless found them really quite compelling and enjoyable. They do seem to hold up pretty well.

four stars

 








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