I have come to John le Carre a little late. When the BBC first dramatised le Carre’s Smiley novels, I must have been about twelve or thirteen, just a little too young for them. My brother, whi is three years older than me, read them voraciously while I stuck to the cosier world of Agatha Christie. In fact it was not until a couple of years ago when I picked up a Henry Porter novel that I read any spy fiction. Since then, I’ve read all the Porter books and, of course, William Boyd’s Restless. My friend Toby Kinsella, who sadly died rearlier this year, was a big le Carre fan and I bought A Most Wanted Man for him the day it came out in hardbook. He said it was a great book and finally I’ve got arounbd to reading it myself.
I am not sure I’d say that it was a great book. It’s certainly a well-written book – le Carre knows his craft – but it was less gripping than I expected it to be. In the first half of the novel it moves quickly, but then seems to slow down somewhat, only to pick up again in the last thirty pages or so. I expected something whose tension would gradually, but perceptibly increase throughout.
Le Carre’s great strength, it seems to me (apart from his writing ability), is that he writes with authority. You get a sense that this is a world that he knows about, either from personal experience or thorough research. As a result the plot is entirely credible and its political points hit home all the more forcefully. It is also a very contemporary novel, tackling head on the more disreputable practices of private banking and the scandal of extraordinary rendition as practised by the United States under Bush. This alone makes it a book that deserves to be read.