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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cold War Spy Novel that Remains Starkly Relevant
When Leo Harting, a German employee of the British Embassy in Bonn (the titular small town in Germany), goes missing with confidential files, London sends Alan Turner to investigate. With anti-British sentiment at a fever pitch in Cold War West Germany, Harting's disappearance takes on significant importance. Is Harting a communist? A neo-Nazi? As Turner pursues his...
Published on November 8, 2005 by Ian Fowler

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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A tale from the Cold War
I first picked up A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY in the late 60s, but, finding it too slow, couldn't finish. My appreciation of John le Carre having increased over the years, I recently gave it another go.
The book is set in the then West German capital of Bonn during the heyday of the Cold War. The British Embassy is beset with a number of mysterious disappearances: a...
Published on September 9, 2003 by Joseph Haschka


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cold War Spy Novel that Remains Starkly Relevant, November 8, 2005
By 
Ian Fowler (Denver, CO United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Small Town in Germany (Mass Market Paperback)
When Leo Harting, a German employee of the British Embassy in Bonn (the titular small town in Germany), goes missing with confidential files, London sends Alan Turner to investigate. With anti-British sentiment at a fever pitch in Cold War West Germany, Harting's disappearance takes on significant importance. Is Harting a communist? A neo-Nazi? As Turner pursues his investigation, it soon becomes clear that Harting was a fixture about the embassy, known to all and yet completely unknown. Moreover, Turner comes to the realization that Rawley Bradfield, head of the embassy, is not interested in helping Turner, despite his assurances to the contrary.

"A Small Town in Germany" is my first John Le Carre novel. It won't be my last. Le Carre's reputation as a master of the spy-thriller is well-founded. Publically, writing as the "anti-Ian Fleming," Le Carre concentrates on plausibility (in fairness, Fleming's early books were more plausible than the films). The plot of this book is single-minded: Turner's tenacious search for Harting and his conflict with Bradfield even as events are straining German domestic stability and international relations. Indeed, instead of a lengthy chase novel with Turner trading shots with Harting through the streets of Bonn, Le Carre writes of Turner's more realistic battle with a distracted bureaucracy as he pieces together just who Harting is, and why Bradfield felt compelled to keep him around for so long. Le Carre is quite careful to obscure the truths of his plot. The answer as to why Harting has vanished and how this relates to the unrest in West Germany is surprising, and speaks to Le Carre's gift for misdirection.

While this novel is plot driven, Le Carre allows his characters to grow. Turner, Harting and Bradfield come to us as complete unknowns. We have some vague notions of Turner's past, but Le Carre doesn't simply give us traumatic events in his life to define him. Rather, he uses Turner's speech and actions to show us that Turner is decent, but driven, and with a limited capacity to relate to people. We sympathize with Turner's need to find Leo, not only because it is his job, but because he's naturally inquisitive. He MUST know what makes Leo tick. We also sympathize with Turner as he runs into multiple brick-walls set up by Bradfield and his personnel. We also realize that in any other circumstance, Turner's qualities might make him less likable. The final plot resolution in fact rests on revelations of the protagonists true nature: Harting isn't truly sinister, and Turner isn't so dogged and without true emotion.

Le Carre wears his politics on his sleeve. He's obviously cynical about the foreign relations and intelligence communities, and, in this book, expresses a dim view (mostly, but not completely, dated) of the German people. He admits in his 1991 introduction that he may have fallen into the trap of Germans = Nazis. In a way, this is ironic, as up until the last 40 or so pages of the book, the German setting seems incidental. Only at the end of the book do the anti-British nationalists take a central role. While Le Carre admits to being anti-German in his intro, his central anti-diplomacy theme is his focus, as evidenced by Bradfield's own cynicism, the embassy's incompetence, and the general unwillingness to admit to failure on anyone's part.

While perhaps dated in its details-the Cold War is over, its not hard to see "A Small Town in Germany" as relevant in today's War on Terror, where so much rides on the actions of a few on both sides, and where old wounds from time immemorial motivate ongoing hatreds and violence. In this way, Le Carre has produced something akin to a classic. If nothing else, he's written a nifty and engaging character study.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Novel, August 19, 2002
By 
R. Albin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Small Town in Germany (Mass Market Paperback)
This might be Le Carre's most ambitious and best written book. It contains a host of well drawn characters and the clever plotting typical of all Le Carre's best work. As with his other good books, Le Carre uses the spy novel format to investigate matters well beyond the usual formulas of thrillers. This book is set in Bonn, in the late 50s or early 60s. Almost all the action takes place within the British embassy. The latter is depicted as a microcosm of British society, with its class, ethnic, and religous divisions, its repressions and emphasis on maintaining British prestige. This book is an allegory and devastating critique of British national policy in that period. Le Carre shows the insularity of British society, its inability to deal with reduction to a second-rate military and economic power, and its preference for preferring shabby deals maintaining British prestige to concrete achievements.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps Le carre's best..., August 18, 2001
By 
Jay T. Segarra (Ocean Springs, MS United States) - See all my reviews
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A fascinating plot, with characteristically rich character development. Even the minor players are drawn carefully, in, well, loving detail (the British ambassador's wife with the lovely arms (a la T.S. Eliot), the diplomat-asthete with the harpsichord he never quite gets around to playing, the Dutch diplomat who cruelly points out the historical inaccuracies in a guest's dinner polemic, etc. The end has a rather grand twist that causes the whole thing to linger in the mind for weeks after, like the "Spy Who Came in from the Cold". One of my favorite 20th century novels period.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, tight vintage Le Carre, especially for non-fans!, November 11, 1998
By A Customer
No Smiley, no Karla, Moscow Centre is only an unconfirmed shadow over the horizon as Le Carre takes his scalpel to a British mission under siege in Bonn somewhere in the undated late 50s/early 60s. The most visible threat is a rabble-rosuing demagogue who is stirring up German passions with talk of a Germany that is being trod all over by its conquerors (a tactic used in fact very successfully by an up-and-coming politician after the First War - I think his outfit was called the National Socialist Party!)
Among the usual undercurrents and tensions of the British mission - basically a for-export version of Whitehall, with all its petty intrigues and shallow secrets - there is mounting tension over an upcoming rally, the unexplained murder of the librarian of a British library that is actually a German library and the solicitiousness of a police chief whose concern rings as true as a shark's regard for a school of minnows. Against this backdrop they struggle to deal with, and keep quiet, the disappearance of a low-level staffer and some oh-so-critical files. London's man Turner starts cutting to the heart of the matter and finds that he needs no enemies outside the mission - the ones inside would do him nicely!
Sprebly plotted and with a *genuine* twist at the end, this is one of Le Carre's absolute best - it's Le Carre for those (like the present writer) who were intimidated by The Little Drummer Girl in infancy and never dared again!
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A tale from the Cold War, September 9, 2003
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This review is from: A Small Town in Germany (Mass Market Paperback)
I first picked up A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY in the late 60s, but, finding it too slow, couldn't finish. My appreciation of John le Carre having increased over the years, I recently gave it another go.
The book is set in the then West German capital of Bonn during the heyday of the Cold War. The British Embassy is beset with a number of mysterious disappearances: a document trolley, a tea machine, an electric fan, and some cups from the Caf. Oh, and a twenty-plus year employee named Otto Harting and a Top Secret "Green File". Meanwhile, on the other side of the embassy fence, a West German industrialist, Karfeld, is inflaming the populace with nationalist speeches, advocating stronger ties with Moscow, and undermining Bundesrepublik support for Britain's entry into the Common Market.
Has Harting bolted to Moscow? The Foreign Office in London dispatches its troubleshooter, Alan Turner, to Bonn to ferret out some answers.
Like le Carre's other books, A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY is short on action and long on character and plot development. For these very reasons, my appreciation of his later books, especially TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE, both featuring the author's most famous hero, George Smiley, lead me to think that my literary tastes have matured over the years, at least when it comes to trashy novels. If the reader of this book squints, he may perhaps see in Turner's dogged pursuit of the puzzle pieces a forerunner of the Smiley character, though the latter is infinitely more subtle and imperturbable. And Turner is not above slapping a lady in his quest for the Truth. Such conduct would be anathema to George, always the gentleman.
That Turner never endears himself to the reader is perhaps the novel's greatest shortcoming. More than that, however, is the fact that the plot is dated. Germany is now re-united, and the capital moved back to Berlin. Bonn is once more a relative backwater. Powerful Germans with an unsavory Nazi past are practically extinct. Moscow is no longer homebase to the pesky KGB and center of the Evil Empire. But the Brits, God love 'em, having told the rest of Europe to take their euros and stuff it, are still stolidly aloof in their island fortress (despite the Chunnel).
A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY, a must read for all le Carre fans, isn't one of his best efforts when compared to later works. But, I did finish it the second time around!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Of Slight Interest Here and Now, January 23, 2007
By 
Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Small Town in Germany (Mass Market Paperback)
John LeCarre's "A Small Town in Germany,"first published in 1969,is one of his stand alone cold war spy thrillers. It concerns doings in the British Embassy in Bonn, then the capital of West Germany, and takes place in the "recent future." Britain faces interlocking problems: it's struggling to get into the Common Market, which Germany can prevent; and a new anti-British demagogue, Karfeld, is arising in Germany to further torment the Brits. At that fraught moment, an Embassy quasi-staffer--Second Secretary Leo Harting, ethnic German-- goes missing, taking along damaging files, a document trolley, somebody's fan, somebody else's tea maker. So an un-Smiley, Alan Turner, is sent from London to search him out. We know Turner is an un-Smiley because he's from the Midlands, meaning he's rude, loses his temper, and dresses badly.

This book makes an extremely long, slow start, although it opens with a brief cameo of where LeCarre intends to go. But if you are not interested -- were never that interested--in internal German politics back then, or in Britain's gaining admission to the Common Market, you will have a very long slog indeed to get to the good part: approximately 300 of approximately 380 pages. Furthermore, this book shares some of the problems of its author's post cold war writing: LeCarre labors to make mountains from molehills, and to interest his readers in the dull. However, his writing is always witty and concise, and he does finally manage to generate some heat in the end: some readers may come to care a bit about Harting and Turner. LeCarre has always had that knack for bang-up beginnings and endings.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great for a first taste of LeCarrè, October 28, 2002
By 
E. Tobias "Safety_Queen" (Minneaoplis, Minn., USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Small Town in Germany (Mass Market Paperback)
A delicately woven plot of political power, personal power, and national pride make a thick blanket behind which the powers of the nation-state operate.
The British embassy in Bonn is depicted as a reflection of the Empire. Each character displayed, pinned to a board as one might an insect collection: to be completely examined and scrutinized for flaws, defects, and identifying characteristics. Perhaps most appealing is not being innundated with detail at the beginning. We find the strings along with Alan Turner, secrutiy expert, wondering where they will lead us. A missing man, Leo Harting, Harting Leo, a German war refugee who returned to his Fatherland, is also a mystery man: spy, patriot, or simply a nobody? Nobody seems to know the same version of the man.
A skillful display of the politics and social up-heaval in early 60s Germany as a mighty nation struggled to determine its own future once again. Le Carrè's experience working in the very same Embassy in the early 60s no doubt provides the truly realistic vision he paints so skillfully with words. The entire profession of diplomacy is not painted in a particularly flattering light - the supremecy of the nebulous national goals reigns over the reality of the individual's life.
As a first taste of his writing, I am eagerly looking forward to more.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars New Meaning to the Term "Dated"!, October 18, 2011
By 
Giordano Bruno (Here, There, and Everywhere) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Small Town in Germany (Mass Market Paperback)
I can't imagine that this is the sort of novel that has made John LeCarré rich and famous. It has beautiful flashes of style, heart-stopping moments of either suspense or epiphany, but as a narrative it's deadly dull. Turgid. Inchoate. Meandering. None of those flaws amount to literary catastrophe. Hey, some of my favorite novels are turgid and meandering! But "A Small Town in Germany" is a depiction of a specific moment in modern history, the moment when the UK was desperately seeking admission to the Common Market and in eventuality to the 'European Community'. The novel is set within the operations of the British Embassy in Bonn. The diplomatic staff is a plausible mash-up of ineptitude, duplicity, and bungling propriety, all overmatched by the ruthless intensity of their German and Russian counterparts. But the novel is in essence an oracle, an ominous foreshadowing of the 'fate of England and Europe' in the near future. And LeCarré was as faulty a 'prophet' as any fundamentalist preacher in America, announcing the end of the world in Y2K or the Rapture last June. His portrayal of German society in the 1960s is nonsensical and his prevision of the course of the Cold War could hardly have been less accurate. In short, he got it all wrong, and the resulting narrative is confusingly misaligned with what anyone might know of modern history. If the book were a complete fiction set in an unnamed place and time, it might be less confusing. As it stands, it's annoyingly dated.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not one of his best..., July 4, 2013
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Rather dull political thriller with an entire cast of unlikeable characters and a story line that takes a long while to develop
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Harder-Boiled le Carré, September 2, 2011
By 
Slokes (Greenwich, CT USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Small Town in Germany (Mass Market Paperback)
Perhaps John le Carré's most hard-boiled novel, "A Small Town In Germany" features an investigator so bull-headed in search of the truth that he angers most of the people he interviews, including one woman he slaps around for needed information. It's a bracingly unusual effort from the urbane le Carré, but generally a positive-enough read until it falls apart at the end.

Alan Turner, we are told, was "a big, lumbering man" who moved "with the thrusting slowness of a barge, a broad, aggressive policeman's walk, willfully without finesse." You can say the same of "A Small Town In Germany." For a time it makes for a terrific read, le Carré creating an atmosphere of unrest and petty gamesmanship around the British embassy in Bonn, then the capital of West Germany. At the heart of the book is a mystery, a very absorbing one as it develops, involving a German employee of the embassy named Leo Harting who has disappeared along with key embassy files.

Everyone in the embassy saw what they wanted to see in Harting, and trusted him in all the wrong ways. To some he was a lover, others a confidante, others a scrounger. He even played the organ at church despite not being a believer. "He'd have charmed you into bed for half a crown," Turner explodes, and you marvel with him at how clever Harting was and wonder for what purpose he employed such cleverness.

The problem with too many mystery novels is they have to solve the mystery at the end. This mystery eventually falls victim to some dated and stretched points le Carré wanted to make about West Germany and its political inclinations, and Great Britain's likely blind eye to same, circa 1968. Describing the rise of an apparent neo-Nazi whose more Nazi than neo, he makes several references to a place in Bonn where Neville Chamberlain stayed while giving away Czechoslovakia. This becomes a central element to the novel at about the same time the nastily wonderful Mr. Turner becomes a sidelines observer. The result is frustrating, as le Carré lumbers on to a typically downbeat finish.

This is otherwise an atypical outing for the writer, not only in being his first not to feature George Smiley but also for the rougher tone it takes from its lead protagonist. Turner works, and so does the "Payton Place"-like setting he is plunged into. The latter comes to life in a series of long conversations which may be a le Carré hallmark but here carry a special liveliness as they advance the Harting story in sundry curious ways, the author doing as much to tease out the setting as the character. He also offers piquant observations of Bonn, a city where he once worked as a spy, as "an island cut off by fog" that "may be a democracy but is frightfully short of democrats."

If he had left it there, I think this book would stand higher in the le Carré pantheon. As it is, a forced ending and some excess negativism is balanced off by a unique central character and a clever set up.
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A Small Town in Germany
A Small Town in Germany by John le Carré (Mass Market Paperback - February 26, 2002)
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