A 1968 Le Carre spy novel. It is the story of a search by an unrelenting British operative, Alan turner, for a Leo Harting, a local employee of the British embassy in Berlin gone missing. In the background: the rise of a new Hitler like leader, Dr. Karfeld, and European trade talks.
The book is built around the interactions Turner has with various embassy employees as he slowly discovers that Harting was after Karfeld, and not working for Russians as some suspected. At the end, Turner realizes that Harting is about to try and assassinate Karfeld, and that the latter is trying to lure him to do it. Turner gets to the scene – a dramatic march on Bonn - but Harting buys the decoy, and is killed as he starts to attempt to kill Karfeld.
As always, Le Carre is great in capturing human moments, and in the Novelist’s quality of capturing moods, nature, and human interaction. this book is even better than others in that. Maybe because Le Carre actually worked in the British Embassy in Bonn.
The broader story is weaker and not completely convincing. For example, Karfeld was investigated for war crimes after WW2 and Hatring interrogated him, but only Harting, and no one else, continued the search although Karfeld was the gravest danger to a democratic Germany.
There are themes here that will appear later in Le Carre’s work, such as briefly discussing the difference between movement and progress in political circlers in Bonn (He will use the exact same term in his 1993 Night Manager, describing Washington), the similarities between those who seem to be on the opposite sides (Harting and turner), and the broken marriages of his heroes (Alan Turner here, Harry Palfry in Russia House and the Night Manager, just to mention a few).
It is also a reminded his Nazism affected literature more than 20 years after its demise, with Little Town in Germany as one of many that reflected fear of a new Hitler, connected to the old one.
The book has moving description and quotes. Among them:
1) “The very choice of Bonn as the waiting house for Berlin was once an anomaly, now it is an abuse”. (22)
2) Bonn a capital is “permanently impermanent” (23)
3) “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy” (154)
4) “Built in moderation of an aimless society” (362)
5) A bureaucrat’s speech:” we are looking for a wider freedom, it does not exist…our policy is the tide, three inches up and down of freedom. Beyond it is anarchy, and all the romantic claptrap of protest and conscience” (363)