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The International Writers Magazine:

A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carré
Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN: 978-0-340-97706-4
Marcel D'Agneau review

Opening a new John Le Carré is like meeting an old friend. A little faded, but still the same old guy, same old smile and it’s good company and you can’t quite recall why you haven’t been seeing more of him lately.

A Most Wanted Man is his latest and with shock you realise that you have skipped the last few, despite one time you were devoted to him and read everything he wrote ever since The Spy who came in from the Cold. Reading about spies and Germany and Russia seemed irrelevant for a while but now thanks to Putin’s paranoia with the West, everything is back to normal and the cold war is resumed or should we call it the gas war.

I never entirely gave up reading spy fiction, but gravitated to Robert Littel and of course Martin Cruz Smith, American writers who just seemed to have more interesting themes. Littel with his monumental history of the CIA The Company and Cruz Smith in particular with his Wolves Eat Dogs on Chernobyl 20 years on.

So, now a mysterious young man Issa, a Muslim, of confused identity Chechen, Turkish, most likely Russian, approaches a Turkish stranger, a heavyweight boxer no less and devout Muslim and demands food and shelter. At first the Turk, Melik is reluctant, but his mother Leyla is sympathetic and he is taken in. He is sick and his tale of being smuggled out of Chechnya by way of Sweden in a container where he was discovered and bribed his way out to get to Hamburg is a common enough tale for economic refugees now. The fact that he appears to have been tortured and held in jails in Turkey and elsewhere adds to the mystery and the righteousness of taking him in. How could someone so young be anything other than innocent?

Enter Annabel, a young German idealistic lawyer for human rights working for Sanctuary North a Christian based Foundation for the protection of stateless persons. She digs deeper and it seems Issa is in fact half-Russian and has in fact come to Hamburg to claim his birthright, money held in a private bank, Brue Freres, run by Tommy Brue, an English ex-pat married to a German in an unhappy marriage.

This is a story about saving a soul. Issa doesn’t want the millions a deposited by his dead and corrupt father in Brue’s bank. He wants it to go to help struggling Chechens and towards his studies to be a doctor. Brue is worried that the young man isn’t who he says he is and Annabel is falling a little in love with this altruistic and devout young man.
Unfortunately for all parties Issa is known to German, America and British intelligence as a terrorists who has taken many lives. And they are desperate to find him. Now begins a game of cat and mouse and claim and counter claim and entrapment of a third party.

No one particularly comes off well in this. The money is dirty, the boy is a liar, the bank is in trouble, Annabel is well connected but out on a limb and the poor Turks who took him in doomed.

This is classic Le Carré. Plots interwoven within plots, characters out of their depth, spies relentlessly chipping away at the truth and sowing seeds of doubt and compromising all. It’s a complex tale in a confused Europe and an excellent insight into the shifting sands that is modern politics in the 21st Century.
Le Carré is still in top form.

© Marcel D'Agneau December 2008
Marcel is the author of 'Eeny Meeny Miny Mole' and occasional contributor to Hackwriters

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