Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Most Wanted Man

Blunt. Most of John LeCarre’s novels have a nuanced and subtle quality that becomes enhanced by the dilemmas faced by his characters. In his latest novel, A Most Wanted Man, most nuance is absent, and the bluntness matches that of other modern spy thrillers, but not of what readers have come to expect from this master of the genre. Given that this is a lesser LeCarre novel, it doesn’t mean readers should take a pass. Like other artists considering how to write post-9/11, LeCarre dials up his anti-Americanism, and reveals the consequences of policies with which he adamantly disagrees. The man in the title is Issa, a Chechen Muslim, and the illegitimate son of a Russian Army colonel who attained wealth during the confusion following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Issa enters Germany illegally and ends up in Hamburg, where he is helped by a lawyer named Annabel Richter for an organization that aids displaced people. Issa believes that the private bankers at Brue Freres can help him, and a chunk of the novel involves exposition about Tommy Brue, the remaining banker and the secrets of his bank’s past thanks to his father’s decisions. Tommy and Anabel provide for some interesting dialogue and action. The closest character to some of the best created by LeCarre in the past is Gunther Bachmann, who leads a domestic spy unit. A Muslim cleric who does 95% good becomes involved in the action. Of course, the involvement is in the 5%. This is a fine novel for an airplane trip or a vacation: enough to keep the brain mildly engaged, but not much more.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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