Review: A Most Wanted Man

Posted 26 September, 2014 by Lianne in Books / 0 Comments

A Most Wanted Man
By: John le Carre
Format/Source: Mass bound paperback; my purchase

A half-starved young Russian man in a long black overcoat is smuggled into Hamburg at dead of night. He has an improbable amount of cash secreted in  a purse round his neck. He is a devout Muslim. Or is he? He says his name is Issa.

Annabel, an idealistic young German civil rights lawyer, determines to save Issa from deportation. Soon her client’s survival becomes more important to her than her own career or safety. In pursuit of Issa’s mysterious past, she confronts the incongruous Tommy Brue, the sixty- year-old scion of Brue Frères, a failing British bank based in Hamburg.

Annabel, Issa, and Brue form an unlikely alliance and a triangle of impossible loves is born. Meanwhile, scenting a sure kill in the so-called War on Terror, the spies of three nations converge upon the innocents.

I picked this book up recently because I saw the trailer some time ago for the movie adaptation starring Philip Hoffman Seymour and was piqued. This is the third le Carre novel I’ve read by him–having read the infamous Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (err, I thought I reviewed the book here but it looks like I only did so with the movie :3 ) and A Delicate Truth (review)–so I was rather thrilled.

A Most Wanted Man was an intriguing read, a little different from the other two le Carre novels I’ve read. There’s obviously the espionage element to the story which has a gradual build-up/slow burn and plays a major role in the storyline in the second half, but I found that the novel focuses a lot more on personal accountability, namely Annabel’s and Tommy Brue’s. Tommy is pulled into Issa’s case when he learns that their fathers have had an association of sorts in the past (until this is revealed, I did find myself wondering how a banker ended up embroiled in this case).

There’s also a lot of internalisation going on in this novel: le Carre looks at the viewpoints and inner thoughts of many of the players operating in this story; mysteriously enough, it’s Issa, the man at the centre of everything, who doesn’t really get a viewpoint in all of this. The psychological dimension, while very helpful in learning more about some of the principal characters and what drives them in this particular story, namely Tommy and Annabel, is not terribly compelling; it felt rather abstract and out there at times, and I’m not sure if it’s just the bleak atmosphere of the novel, the writing, or the characters.

The story starts picking up speed in the second half as the agencies start gaining ground on Annabel, Tommy, and Issa, but it felt rather disjointed and disengaged. It’s a delicate mission these operatives–everyone involved, really–are embarking on; sometimes it blurs the lines as to who’s in the right, the realpolitiks involved, whose side should you be on. Like his other novels, he does a wonderful job at presenting the costs involved in such ventures. However, I did find myself wondering who really “won” at the end though…It felt a little anticlimactic after the slow burn, but then again that’s the gritty reality of the business.

Overall, A Most Wanted Man kept me engaged and intrigued. Everything is not quite as clear-cut and the characters find themselves in some tough situations as the tension amps up. I found it rather interesting how Tommy and Annabel’s situations goes through a see-saw of sorts; as one gains conviction, the other loses traction, and vice versa. It adds to the level of intrigue, even if it all feels rather abstract somehow. Nonetheless, I liked the novel enough, it was a solid read.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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