Wednesday, December 10, 2008

John Le Carré: A Most Wanted Man

As I was reading A Most Wanted Man, I kept asking myself, “Why do I keep reading Le Carré?” John Le Carrré’s books certainly are not as much fun as David Baldacci’s. Any yet, he has the reputation as being the premier writer of espionage fiction. In hindsight, it occurs to me that I enjoy about half of Le Carré’s stuff. I bought A Most Wanted Man because I was interested in seeing Le Carré’s take on the “War on Terror”.

In A Most Wanted Man, we see the interactions among several interesting characters. Issa Karpov is a Muslim, in Hamburg illegally, taken in by a Turkish family, who happen to be trying to achieve German citizenship. Annabel Richter is a civil rights lawyer who works for Sanctuary North, an organization dedicated to the protection of stateless and displaced persons in northern Germany. Tommy Brue is the senior banker in the British bank, Brue Frères operating in Hamburg. Günther Bachmann heads the Foreign Acquisitions Unit of Hamburg’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

Issa appears to be devout, naïve, young, and innocent. He also bears obvious scars of torture. It turns out he is the Chechen son of a Russian Army officer. He has apparently been in prison in both Russia and Turkey. How did he end up in Hamburg? How could an innocent young man get across the numerous borders involved?

Annabel contacts Tommy on Issa’s behalf. Apparently Issa’s father had deposited considerable cash, of questionable origin, with Brue Frères through Tommy now deceased father. Is the bank complicit in money laundering? Is Annabel perpetrating a blackmail scheme? What does Issa want to fund? Annabel’s last client was deported to certain torture and death. To what lengths will she go to avoid a repeat of that outcome?

Günther’s organization is caught up in a power struggle between the Federal Police and the Federal Foreign Intelligence Service. Who will take primacy in the “War on Terror”? Will the new Joint Steering Committee be effective, or just a new forum for in-fighting?

The international community has a warrant out for Issa. Günther finds him. Günther’s background leads him in the direction of wanting to recruit agents-in-place, to gain intelligence on terrorist plans. Other factions are more interested in headline grabbing arrests. What are British and American agents doing on German soil? Who is in charge?

All these conflicting issues intertwine throughout the story in A Most Wanted Man. Le Carré leads us to a believable conclusion.

There is something about Le Carré’s writing style that can grate on me some. And to a large extent, I really don’t care what happens to all his characters. He doesn’t get me emotionally involved. So A Most Wanted Man is not that much fun. It is not a hard-to-put-down, gripping page-turner.

But in the week since I finished the book, I cannot stop thinking about it. I cannot stop thinking about what the US and its allies are doing in the “War on Terror”. Are we doing the right thing? That’s probably why I keep reading Le Carré. His books leave you thinking. And that’s a good thing.

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