December 2, 2019

Le Carré cashes in rivetingly on resumption of Cold War

Reviewer: Archie Henderson

Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré (Penguin Random House UK)

Moscow Centre is up and running again, its tentacles stronger and more malicious than ever. Its agent are all over London. It has a US president in its boss’s pocket, has begun to break up a European market alliance and even undermine its greatest enemy, Nato. All the hard work done by George Smiley to turn Moscow Centre’s mastermind Karla and foreshadow the end of communism has been undone in only a few years. No wonder John le Carré is in his element.

Our greatest spy novelist never quire reached the heights of the Karla trilogy once the Cold War ended. With Agent Running in the Field, he might be touching them again.

Except that Moscow Centre, back to its old brutal efficiency, is less of the story than Le Carré’s usual theme of betrayal, which I hope is not giving too much away in a story that is riveting from beginning to end.

The hero of the book is Nat, an MI6 veteran who once ran agents into the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. At the age of 47, he has been brought home, much to the delight of his long-suffering wife Prue, a human rights lawyer, and their difficult daughter, Steff. He is put in charge of a service outstation, the Haven (shades of Mick Heron and Slough House here, though not quite as outcast)

It’s at the Haven he comes across a secret service probationer, Florence, who is a natural in Nat’s trade. She’s full of promise, ideas and strong feelings about today’s world where the enemy lines are opaque. She’s also too much for the higher-ups of the service, one of whom, an idiot by the name of Trench, is Nat’s bête noire.

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