119 of 131 people found the following review helpful
John le Carre bases A Most Wanted Man on a most unlikely premise. To depict the extent of Western xenophobia and scapegoating spawned by 9/11, he chooses to set this spy novel not in the country that was struck by the terrorists, or in the nations targeted by the ensuing War on Terror, but in the country that served as a way station for several key 9/11 terrorists.
Hamburg, Germany, a city known for its openness to foreigners, is infiltrated by a fractured young man from Chechnya who may (or may not) pose the next grave threat to Western civilization. Young Issa's improbable entry into Germany, tenuous connection to Islamic radicals, and inherited right to a large secret bank account held by British-owned Brue Freres, place him in the crosshairs of German, British and United States intelligence agencies, each with its own mysterious agenda. When young civil rights attorney Annabel petitions bank owner Tommy Brue to release the secret funds and help protect Issa from deportation, Annabel and Tommy find themselves caught up in a multi-layered plot that tests their willingness to sacrifice their reputations and livelihoods for the benefit of this enigmatic young man.
A Most Wanted Man succeeds not only as a sophisticated spy thriller, but also as a nuanced character study, provocative political commentary, and thoughtful examination of what it really means to be a moral human being. The writing is fluid throughout, and the well-constructed plot builds suspense even in the absence of violent action. The ending, though, left me with the impression that le Carre wound this tale so tightly that it jammed up at the climax and could not release properly. When this gets made into a movie, as seems to be the case with most of le Carre's books, the screen writer's challenge will be to devise a more fitting resolution to this fantastic build-up.
174 of 195 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2008
Years ago, I was awestruck by the power of Le Carre's books, from "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" to "The Little Drummer Gi rl." Later, I found myself caught up in the problems of "The Night Manager." I loved the moral complexities, the character depth, and the astute dialogue.
Since then, few of his novels have held me in quite the same way. They often seem vague, floundering, with no real direction. "A Most Wanted Man" has glimpses of that old Le Carre, though never as focused or riveting as in those earlier years. This time around, we are drawn into the mystery of a young man from Chechnya who's shown up in Germany. He bears marks of imprisonment and mental instability, and yet he seems to have valuable connections in the German banking industry. He receives pity and mercy from a banker and a female lawyer, while being hunted by shadowy figures from past and present. Along the way, Le Carre makes some biting commentary on the state of affairs in the modern Western world.
As expected, we are given in-depth looks at character and setting here, as well as the emotional and political structures that rise and fall around our desire for democracy. It's an interesting story, if not a bit windy in places. It was more cohesive than some of his recent efforts, but still lacked that beating heart that seemed to pulse in his earlier books--even faintly. I kept waiting for that resuscitation to happen here, but it never quite did so. After a few books of his that have showed this same lifelessness, I wondered why.
I went to Mr. Le Carre's website the other day and found this quote from him: "nothing that I write is authentic...Artists, in my experience, have very little centre. They fake. They are not the real thing." I strongly disagree with this statement. Most of my favorite authors connect with me through fiction because they ARE authentic. They find that center and get to the heart of the human condition, without flinching. I think Mr. Le Carre's cynicism has robbed him of his empathy and replaced it with justifiable anger and fear. Yes, his books contain those emotions, but they stopped having a beating heart last decade...and now at last I know why.
107 of 128 people found the following review helpful
With the possible exception of one young German lawyer there are no revolutionary acts in John Le Carre's "A Most Wanted Man". Rather, we have high-level functionaries from German, British, and US intelligence agencies for whom deceit is the norm and truth plays, at best, a secondary role in acting in what is or may be in each country's national interest. In tone and substance this is not much different from Le Carre's Cold War fiction. The trick is to see whether the same cynical realism plays as well in today's `war on terror'. Le Carre's transition from the Cold War to the brave new world post-9/11 is excellent. The result is a book that is dark, cynical, and almost as rewarding as the best of Le Carre's earlier fiction.
The most wanted man in question is Issa. Issa is the product of the rape of a Chechnyan woman by a Red Army Colonel stationed in Chechnya. Raised by his father in Russia, Issa flees to the west after his father dies. Issa finds his way to Hamburg and despite his famished look it appears that Issa has connection to money and influence. He is also, apparently, a Muslim and because of his Chechnyan heritage he is identified by Russian intelligence agencies as a suspected terrorist. German, US, and British intelligence agencies based in Hamburg quickly identify him as a person of interest. The other main protagonists are Annabel Richter and Tommy Brue. Richter is a newly qualified attorney who has foregone work in private practice to work for a German civil rights organization created to assist immigrants and refugees in normalizing their status in Germany. Brue is a private banker whose bank is the depository of the significant funds Issa may lay claim to.
Le Carre does a wonderful job portraying Issa, Richter, and Brue. Issa is a total cipher. He has a naïve innocence about him (think of Chance from Jerzy Kosinki's Being There) that takes the reader in one direction in assessing his motives and the real reason for his presence in Germany. Yet there are enough anomalies and discrepancies in his story and in his remarks to Richter and Brue that make you go, "hold on a moment, there's more here than meets the eye." Richter is something of a naif, her idealism tends to obscure her ability to cast a truly critical eye over the gaps in Issa's story.
Tennyson once wrote:
"That a lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies;
That a lie which is all a lie may be met and fought with outright;
But a lie which is part a truth is a harder matter to fight."
Le Carre writes with exquisite precision and insight about a world in which truth is not a matter worth fighting for. Highly recommended. L. Fleisig
102 of 126 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2008
John Le Carre has never disguised his dislike for much that is American, and that fact alone has never stopped me from buying and reading everything he has written to date. I consider the Karla trilogy the best writing ever done in the espionage genre. In fact, it transcends the genre, and "Tinker, Tailor" in particular can be ranked among the best novels of the 20th century, period.
That said, as a long-time, loyal Le Carre reader, I have been growing increasingly troubled over his last several novels that his growing disdain for the United States has clouded his ability to produce good fiction. "Absolute Friends" was a major disappointment precisely because Le Carre couldn't choose between writing a novel that worked or an anti-American screed; the book was somewhere in between, and it functioned effectively on neither level.
I thought he had worked through that issue when he released "Mission Song," which was a return to his usual, high standards.
He has regressed - and then some - in "A Most Wanted Man." If writing mistakes can be tragic, this episode in a great writer's career is a tragedy. The tragic element is that he was well on his way to an artistic success but chose to throw it away with a denouement that serves his politics poorly, his art not at all. Over the first fourteen chapters he creates some very clever, effective, interesting characters; his plotting is excellent; the sense of place and color as good as it gets in modern fiction; the dialog borders on brilliant. Then the resolution: unconvincing, contrived, two-dimensional, and dishonest. A reader has every right to feel cheated.
That Le Carre has strong political views we know, understand, and accept. His views aren't the issue. The issue is that his compulsion to serve his politics in his fiction cheats the fiction.
There are a number of highly regarded opinion journals that would love to publish a 500-word essay by Le Carre on all that he sees as wrong with American politics and policy. Five hundred words would cover about everything he has to say on that subject in novels like this and "Absolute Friends." Perhaps, were he to vent his politics through such essays, he would then be able to return with a clearer eye to the writing of fiction. Le Carre has a lot of admirers who would dearly love to see the fiction he is still capable of writing.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2010
After you get to the very unsatisfying non-ending, you'll wish you had not wasted your time or money on this book. It would make more sense to reread one of his older novels instead.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2010
I was drawn to this book by the excellent reviews it received in the press, however, I was singularly unimpressed! I would not be an avid Le Carre fan although I have read some of his books in the past; this one was filled with more characters than was necessary, and all, including the three central protagonists, were stereo-typical and not very believable.
An author's job is to engage the reader in the lives of his characters, to stimulate emotions of love or hate for them, to be INTERESTED in them! But as I read this book, I did not care what happened to any of these three characters; although Le Carre WROTE that the characters had feelings for each other, no such emotions were apparent BETWEEN the lines, which is where a good writer communicates with the reader.
I felt that Le Carre was struggling to create a sense of tension or drama in places, but it just did not work; the writing was just plain turgid in places; the elaborate speech-making (explaining Dr Abdullah's background to the assorted spies and secret policemen) was very unconvincing; the conclusion was an action-packed scene, but this did not leap from the pages as it might have done with another writer.
To be fair, it started well, sagged in the middle, nonetheless, I stayed with it to the bitter end because I expected Le Carre would deliver towards the end, but it was all a bit disappointing.
42 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2008
I can't begin this review without saying that I have long considered John Le Carre my favorite write. I've read all his books - most of them several time - and have felt proud to proclaim myself his greatest fan. All of which makes writing my review for "A Most Wanted Man" both difficult and painful.
The book is a love letter to the Muslim community, sickeningly considerate of their views, while cursorily dismissive of "the West" (Britain, Germany, and the big bad wolf, America) and its legitimate security concerns. The writing is fantastic - when isn't it? the man is a literary genius!! - but at the same time, disgustingly contrived. Worst of all, he commits the cardinal sin: the story is a bore.
For a while now, Le Carre has moved away from a gimlet-eyed recounting of espionage's moral castaways and chosen to mount the soapbox of political indignation. If Jerry Westerby and Alec Leamas and Jonathan Pine were punished for their last minute conversions to decency, at least Le Carre offered an even handed view of the stakes involved and drew complex, engaging portrait of all combatants. I, for one, usually agreed with Smiley's plans - even if they went awry. Maybe I'm just a believer in old fashioned REAL POLITIK, but one man's life is often worth the achievement or advancement of a country's security objectives.
(Am I wrong or was it not worth Leamas' life to get the German double agent Mundt into Directorate of East German Intelligence? And by the way, Leamas killed himself by choosing to go back for the girl, as did Jerry Westerby by trying to save the villain Ko. So much for the past....onto A Most Wanted Man.)
First, there is the silly, shoestring of a story. A downcast Muslim immigrant steals into Hamburg hoping to secure money left for him in a private bank by his (villainous)father, a Russian colonel named Karpov. The money is to be used to fund his medical education. The Muslim's name is Issa - or "Jesus," - but he is the most unsympathetic, boorish savior that ever was. Issa attracts the attention of another cardboard character, the untiring do-gooder, Annabelle Richter. Just thinking of her heartfelt paeans to justice in this book makes me want to vomit. If there really are advocates like her in this world, I've never met one...and I pray I never do. Nothing matters to her but the poor wretches she has devoted her life to save. She only drinks water and dresses like a man. Cue: swelling violins. Cut to her flared nostrils as she fights the good fight.
Then there is Tommy Brue, a character Le Carre has written so many times he feels as shopworn as a Salvation Army overcoat. Brue is a fourth generation banker living on the vestiges of his family's succcess while lamenting the business practices which made all of them wealthy. He is another vile, phony creation. In Le Carre's world, the noble must be failures, drunks, tormented homosexuals,discarded sons, or all of the above. In "MWM," Brue is disgusted by his late father's coddling of certain Russian criminals - mostly former KGB types who made off with their country's patrimony in the murky final days of the Evil Empire - and is anxious to right his Daddy's wrongs. (Boy, it's tough to be sixty, handsome, healthy and wealthy. You've got to do something with your life!! Spare me!)
In walks Issa and his problems are solved. Here's MY problem: I didn't buy this for a second. In a tortuously long scene, Brue interrogates Issa and decides to come to his aid. Brue is literally overcome by the muslim community's nobility, their "grace under poverty." A more saintly bunch you've never seen. It is as if Le Carre has smoked some kind of "love opium" that makes him see every Muslim under the sun through rose colored glasses. Worse, Brue's motives seem as much to get into Annabelle Richter's pants as to help the poor Muslim. Make up your mind, Mr. Le Carre. Which is it? Sex or salvation?
Anyway, there is also German intelligence involved - they see Issa as a wolf in sheep's clothing. Time to put him on the unscheduled flight to the secret detention facilities in Romania...you get the drift.
Where will our moral crusaders end up? Take a guess. In Le Carre's world, the noble always fail and the greedy Western capitalists succeed. He has lost all nuance, all shading. It is one long, painful rant. Reading this book, I felt like I were at Marble Arch, listening to some loud mouthed, pretentious jerk lecture me for hours on end. ZZZZzzzzz!!!
John Le Carre has lost his touch. (Sorry, David!)
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2008
Only the John Le Carre name carries this totally forgettable intrigue. I'm three quarters of the way through and it has been a struggle to continue. None of the characters interest me except wiht the possible exception of the 'victim' of the story but as his character is never really developed we don't get to know him.
I'm not American so I am not clouded by patriotism. The book is simply not up to the Le Carre name.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2010
Post-9/11 hysteria and the sudden realization that the western intelligence services were caught napping seems like such an excellent backdrop for a Le Carre novel. Shadowy private banking, Muslim figures that might be terror financiers, it sounds good, right? Too bad this thing is off the rails from the start - nary a nuanced, sympathetic, or remotely complex character to be found. The plot, revolving around a simple banking transaction, moves glacially, as the naive do-good lawyer and the cynical burnt-out banker are persuaded by various intelligence service hacks to go along with a design-by-committee scheme to co-opt what might possibly be an alleged terror financing conduit. The whole point of the story appears to be the conclusion, in which inexplicable, nameless, out-of-frame black hats that might be Americans come in and upset the whole apple-cart. Really? Here we have the best political lunacy since the arms race, and one of my favorite espionage authors phones this in? Bah.
26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2009
Paraphrasing A. Alvarez's autobio title, Le Carre fans must continue in the wilderness wondering how a "favorite" author once more disappoints. Mr. Cromwell continues to finger contemporary international areas of conflict ahead of most genre writers. But his development seems to be "type writing volume" to fill space before a final resolve.
His inkblot analysis of each character has become more than one wants to know. None of characters is sympathetic. Their interactions are unbelievable. Their love fantasies are laughable. Their dialog is tedious.
Le Carre is indeed one of the great writers of the last 50 years. Future works I am sure will continue to be published and sell. But I have given up, finally, of expecting his early genius to be met again.