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Cover image for A most wanted man
A most wanted man



Center Point large print ed.
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Me. : Center Point Pub., 2008.
Physical Description:
445 pages ; 23 cm
A half-starved young Russian man claiming to be a devout Muslim, an idealistic young German civil rights lawyer, and a sixty-year-old scion of a failing British bank based in Hamburg form an unlikely alliance as the rival spies of Germany, England and America scent a sure kill in the "War on Terror," and converge upon the innocents.
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Le Carre

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Issa is a half-starved young Russian man in a long black overcoat who is smuggled into Hamburg in the dead of night. He has a large amount of cash in a purse around his neck. He is a devout Muslim. Or is he?

Annabel, an German civil rights lawyer, is determined to save Issa from deportation, and 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 Tommy Brue, a 60-year-old scion of Brue Freres, a failing British bank based in Hamburg.

While Issa, Annabel and Brue form an unlikely alliance, spies from deep inside the intelligence agencies of three nations.

Author Notes

David John Moore Cornwell was born in Poole, Dorsetshire, England in 1931. He attended Bern University in Switzerland from 1948-49 and later completed a B.A. at Lincoln College, Oxford. He taught at Eton from 1956-58 and was a member of the British Foreign Service from 1959 to 1964.

He writes espionage thrillers under the pseudonym John le Carré. The pseudonym was necessary when he began writing, in the early 1960s because, at that time, he held a diplomatic position with the British Foreign Office and was not allowed to publish under his own name. When his third book, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became a worldwide bestseller in 1964, he left the foreign service to write full time. His other works include Call for the Dead; A Murder of Quality; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy; and Smiley's People.

He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1986 and the Diamond Dagger from the Crime Writers Association in 1988. Several of his books have been adapted for television and motion pictures including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Russia House, and The Constant Gardener.

Le Carré's memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from my Life, became a New York Times bestseller ist in 2016.

(Bowker Author Biography) John le Carre was born in 1931. After attending the univesities of Berne and Oxford, he spent five years in the British Foreign Service. He's the author of eighteen novels, translated into twenty-five languages. He lives in England.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

When boxer Melik Oktay and his mother, both Turkish Muslims living in Hamburg, take in a street person calling himself Issa at the start of this morally complex thriller from le CarrE (The Mission Song), they set off a chain of events implicating intelligence agencies from three countries. Issa, who claims to be a Muslim medical student, is, in fact, a wanted terrorist and the son of Grigori Karpov, a Red Army colonel whose considerable assets are concealed in a mysterious portfolio at a Hamburg bank. Tommy Brue, a stereotypical flawed everyman caught up in the machinations of spies and counterspies, enters the plot when Issa's attorney seeks to claim these assets. The book works best in its depiction of the rivalries besetting even post-9/11 intelligence agencies that should be allies, but none of the characters is as memorable as George Smiley or Magnus Pym. Still, even a lesser le CarrE effort is far above the common run of thrillers. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

Government knaves and compromised idealists duel over the fate of an alleged terrorist in le Carr's latest examination of The Way We Spy Now. A gaunt stranger in a long black overcoat materializes one night near the docks of Hamburg. Calling himself Issa, speaking only Russian, identifying himself as a Chechen Muslim, he attaches himself to Turkish heavyweight champion Melik Oktay, who gives him shelter, and Annabel Richter, the Sanctuary International lawyer who begins the long fight to normalize his position in Germany. The case for deporting Issa is strong. He'd been imprisoned in his homeland, then again in Sweden, where he'd been smuggled before escaping to Hamburg. But Issa holds one trump card. His father, Col. Grigori Borisovich Karpov, was one of a handful of Russian gangsters who opened a Lipizzaner account at the private banking firm of Brue Fr'res years ago. If Issa claimed the funds due his father, he'd be a rich man. Despite the urging of Annabel and Tommy Brue, the guilt-ridden heir of Brue Fr'res, Issa doesn't want the money; he only wants to be granted asylum and study medicine. Or is he, as the intelligence agencies of Germany and Britain contend, a jihadist who's arrived in Hamburg to work some frightful act of terror? As Annabel labors to keep Issa hidden from the authorities until she's secured his legal status and Brue struggles to reconcile his commission from his father's criminal clients with the safety of his bank and himself, Günther Bachmann, of Germany's domestic intelligence service, warily tracks the new arrival, only to find himself under pressure from a pair of clownish but menacing British agents whose deep-laid plans have roots a generation deep. The story can't possibly end well, and it doesn't. But le Carr (The Mission Song, 2006, etc.), without lecturing, deftly puts human faces and human costs on the paranoid response to the threat of terrorism. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

New York Review of Books Review

The great moment in the winding down of the cold war came in 1989, the reality of its ending right there on television, live from Berlin: that wall, that brutal symbol of brutal politics, being smashed to pieces by ecstatic Berliners, with pickaxes, with sledge hammers, with bare hands if that was all they had. The Iron Curtain was a metaphor, but the wall was real concrete, and there it went, and thank heaven. This was bad news only for a legion of Communist bureaucrats - though not quite all of them, it turned out - and also, in a very small corner of the world, the toilers in fiction. Well, too bad, but if that was the price to be paid for the joyous parade of stuttering Trabbies streami into the West, so be it. Cold war spy fiction had had its day, and it had been, for a generation of readers on airplanes and beaches, a very good day indeed. Len Deighton, Derek Marlowe, Charles McCarry and, at the top of the heap, the magnificent John le Carré, most notably in his Karla trilogy: "Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy," "The Honourable Schoolboy" and "Smiley's People." The great character of the trilogy was the meek, brilliant George Smiley, a character le Carré had used before but here was his full flowering. And if his reality on the page was compelling, his rendering in human form - by Alec Guinness in the BBC's two miniseries, adapted from "Tinker, Taylor" and "Smiley's People" - made him even more real. You reread the books, and visualized Sir Alec. Perfect. Le Carré went forward, right through "The Russia House," in 1989, where a good-hearted civilian, the publisher Barley Blair, is caught up in the battles of amoral spies in a never-ending war. The motto on the family crest of that novel was "A plague on both your houses," because, by now, le Carré was angry at the whole spy business, a big, bureaucratic sausage machine that ground up innocent civilians to no good purpose. What had always driven le Carré's novels was anger, moral anger, stirred by the political reality of the moment, then written from a particularly seductive point of view. If the spy wars of the later 20th century were fought in "a wilderness of mirrors," beset by paradox and moral uncertainty - evil done in the name of good - then John le Carré, or, rather, the narrative voice that went by the name John le Carré, was the perfect choice to polish those mirrors. It was the voice of the urbane, upper-class Englishman: courteous, opaque and chilly, with a ruthless, penetrative intellect and razor wit for the delivery of its insights. And could he write! Past tense, present tense, talks to his characters, funny one minute, wildly emotional the next, leaping from plot point to plot point and leaving out all the dumb stuff the reader knew anyhow. Under his hand, the genre had grown, had reached heights it had never known before. But, by 1990, gone. "The Secret Pilgrim" was a retrospective novel, looking back at the cold war. Then, by 1993, le Carré wrote "The Night Manager," aimed at arms dealing, a kind of replacement villainy. There followed a few strange, uncomfortable novels - "The Constant Gardener," "Absolute Friends," "The Mission Song" - the passionate anger now turned on faceless corporations and their victims. No more evil in the name of good, now just obscene greed; and the chemistry didn't work. "Actually," people said, "I haven't read it." But then, something changed. And, co-incidentally, a few weeks after the cold war sat up in its coffin and smiled, John le Carré publishes one of the best novels he's ever written. Maybe the best, it's possible. What the hell got into him? Well, not quite 9/11, more its aftermath. "A Most Wanted Man" is the story of a young fugitive, half Chechen, half Russian, who shows up in the German port city of Hamburg, in its way also damaged by the 9/11 attack, which was organized there, undiscovered by the German security services. His name is Issa, he is half crazy, half sane, maybe Muslim, maybe not, maybe on a terrorist mission, maybe not. What we do get to know about him is that he has been jailed by the Russians and the Turks, and has escaped detention in both those countries and in Sweden, and that he has been tortured, and pretty much psychologically destroyed by it. What he has is money: $500 in a bag around his neck, and millions in a secret account in a private British - Scottish bank in Hamburg. Dark money, paid to his Russian colonel father by the British secret service, money now laundered, over many years, by the bank. So, a private British bank means a private British banker. In this case, Tommy Brue, 60, "salt of the earth, good man on a dark night, no highflier but all the better for it, first-rate wife, marvelous value at the dinner table and plays a decent game of golf." It was Brue's father who created, and titled, certain Lipizzaner accounts the Lipizzaner horse being born black and turning white with age, just like Tommy Brue's clients' crooked money. And there is also, as there must be, a female lead, a young lawyer of solid Berlin family, whose organization, Sanctuary North, attempts to help illegal, particularly Islamic, immigrants. For many, to be returned to their country of origin means interrogation, and prison, and it is Annabel Richter's job to save them. Could they be terrorists? All? Some? Reading "A Most Wanted Man" will let you know just what difficulties lie ahead for those who attempt to make that determination. The major spy character, the good spy to go with the good banker and the good lawyer - nearly an unbeatable team, you think? - is Günther Bachmann. Not Smiley: much rougher, more desperate, not a bit worried about doing evil in defense of good because now it's 9/11 evil, not Soviet evil. "If there are people in the world for whom espionage was always the only possible calling, Bachmann was such a person. The polyglot offspring of mixed marriages contracted by a flamboyant German-Ukrainian woman, and reputedly the only officer of his service not to possess an academic qualification beyond summary expulsion from his secondary school, Bachmann had by age 30 run away to sea, trekked the Hindu Kush, been imprisoned in Colombia and written a thousand-page unpublishable novel. Yet somehow, in the course of notching up these improbable experiences, he had discovered both his nationhood and his true calling: first as the occasional agent of some far-flung German outpost, then as a covert overseas official without diplomatic rank; in Warsaw for his Polish; in Aden, Beirut, Baghdad and Mogadishu for his Arabic; and in Berlin for his sins." Now Bachmann is stationed in Hamburg. And there his team, the Foreign Acquisitions Unit, discovers Issa. Bachmann is not the only spy in "A Most Wanted Man"; he swims in a sea of them - German espiocrats and national police; some adroitly verbal Brits, savage but polite; and, at the margin, some Americans, savage and not polite. And, taken together, quite a crew. Do they respect law and lawyers? No, they eat law and lawyers, just for an appetizer. Compared with them, the fine old le Carré characters - Connie Sachs with her total recall for Soviet thugs, Toby Esterhase and his street-surveillance Lamplighters - seem wistful, melancholy figures from a different time. In history, in fiction. And they are. Because in "A Most Wanted Man," the sheer desperation of those whose job it is to prevent another 9/11, another Madrid commuter train, another London Tube attack, is written as a slow-burning fire in every line, and that's what makes it nearly impossible to mark the page and go to sleep. Something said earlier in this review might better be amended. The concept of "best book" is difficult for the writer and reader; there are too many variables. Truer to say that this is le Carré's strongest, most powerful novel, which has a great deal to do with its near perfect narrative pace and the pleasure of its prose, but even more to do with the emotions of its audience, what the reader brings to the book. There the television has once again done its work, has created a reality, and John le Carré has written an extraordinary novel of that reality. Bachmann is not Smiley: much rougher, more desperate, not worried about doing evil in defense of good. Alan Furst's most recent novel is "The Spies of Warsaw."

Library Journal Review

A relatively minor work from le Carre (The Constant Gardener), with less at stake than usual, this fairly straightforward self-read novel is nonetheless compelling for its vividly drawn characters, especially disenchanted British banker Tommy Brue and idealistic civil rights lawyer Annabel Richter. Le Carre lucidly and adeptly handles both the various accents and the pauses and emphases; indeed, the words and phrases he stresses help to clarify motivations even his characters do not fully grasp. Recommended for popular collections. [Unabridged retail-edition CD and digital download available from S. & S. Audio, with Roger Rees reading; watch the book trailer at www.simonsays.com; the Scribner hc was "highly recommended," LJ 9/1/08.-Ed.]-Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr. Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.