One of Le Carre’s post cold war spy texts.
It is the story of Jonathan Pine, a hotelier and the orphaned son of a British soldier and himself a former special forces warrior. Pine volunteers to help a new agency at the British Intelligence to bring to justice an international arms dealer, Richard Onslow Roper. Pine is driven to volunteer following an affair he had in Egypt with a woman that was murdered by one of Roper’s associates. With the assistance of this agency Pine penetrated Roper’s inner circle, but as a result of an internal leak is caught, only to be saved (with his new lover) by his handler despite the traitorous management of the British spy services.
As always is the case in other Le-Caree's books, it has some interesting insights into the human soul. When describing the hero’s “limitless adaptability” (p.232) or when suggesting that Pine's quest is not simply a search for justice: He is told by his lover “you give the air of looking for someone…but the missing person is yourself” (p.232). Some of the descriptions are poetic. In one place Le-Carre mentions a shop that does not allow barefoot customers, and moves to describing barefoot birds standing next to it. In another, he describes how Roper’s older guests “lower themselves into the…pool clutching the ladder lest they split again and become what they feared to be: before they opted for a plastic surgery. Talking about politics in Washington through some of his heroes he doubts if “so much movement” really amounts to “progress” (p.320), an insight used also in his "A Small Town in Germany"
But all in all, it is a disappointing book. Some of the psychological issues – Jonathan’s effort to live up to his father’s heritage – were desalt much better in other Le Carre works ("perfect spy", for example) and borders on the cliché. He fails the reality test – an area Le Carre usually does so well at – with the concocted trail of crimes Jonathan is doing in order to look “criminal” to Roper and in order to get a passport (perhaps too much of cold war like penetration cover story build-up?). Le Carre is
almost paranoid when he describes the British intelligence community as being in bed with the arms dealers (including a bribe offered by one public servant to another). Finally, the ending is tailored for a Hollywood movie, but not a Le Carre novel: The last honest intelligence official in London goes on an impossible rouge effort and manages to release his agentr and the agent's (and ex Roper’s) woman, and they both live happily ever after. Not convincing.