Thursday, 19 December 2019

Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré.

Nat (anglicised from Anatoly) is in the middle:  middle-aged – coming up 47 – middle-sized – a slim 5’ 10” and pretty fit – and a British spy of the middle order, running agents in the field here and there in Europe, which he usually recruits through his middling prowess on the Badminton court.  It’s relatively easy in his guise as a middle-order diplomat to invite likely recruits from other consulates or embassies for a game of badminton, thence to practice his well-honed skills of charm and persuasion (and practical rewards) to turn the likely one into a middle-order spy.
            Now he has been called permanently back to Britain, a country he hardly recognises after so many years abroad, and given charge of a minor station on its last legs, surely a blatant signal by his bosses to position him for early retirement – ‘Dear old chap, thanks SO much for your sterling efforts’  etc.  The writing is on the wall, Nat informs his stoic wife Prue, a human-rights lawyer who is also getting used to his everyday presence, having decided to stay in London to bring up their daughter Stephanie who is now raised, and rebellious with it.  Yes, his new life will take some getting used to, not least Brexit, Trump’s presidency and its effect on the ineffectual Tory government scrambling to make trade deals with America -  and the meeting with a mysterious young man who visits Nat at his athletics club especially to challenge him to a weekly game.
            Ed Shannon is vague about his occupation:  he’s in Research, but researching what is unstated;  instead he uses their matches to expound on his hatred for Putin and Trump, those arch-collaborators and anti-Christs.  He is filled with the unquenchable zeal of youth, but no-one is more surprised than Nat when a badminton foursome he arranges at Ed’s request (so that his disabled sister can have a hit or two), and Florence, a very promising agent from his office develops into something much more – and infinitely more sinister.
            As always, Mr Le Carré’s enormous gifts of credible and witty  characterisation are a pleasure all by themselves, but his sharply-focused eye on Britain’s current troubles is all-encompassing, and his view is bleak:  the ways in which the world can now be manipulated are myriad, ‘Fake News’ being the least of them:  When Nat the cynic and Ed the idealist’s views collide, the fall-out is deafening.  FIVE STARS.   

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