This is the fourth of my Cyprus crime/thriller reads. Previous installments were: The Winner by David Baldacci, Camino Island by John Grisham, and Run Away by Harlan Coben. So far Grisham and Coben came out as equals. But let’s be honest John le Carré is in a class of his own. I read his Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, so the best of the best. I had Agent Running in the Field on my kindle for a while now, so the time has come.
What I didn’t realize and it took me a while to realize was that it is not one of the old novels, but actually, the very latest one, published by le Carré when he was 88. Which is impressive. What made me realize that it must be recent was the first mention of Trump and Brexit. It’s a bit funny because le Carré has a specific cadence of language that I associate with his previous books and that’s why I was completely oblivious to the time setting of this book for a while.
Nat, our narrator, is a 47 years old spy, for years he was running foreign agents abroad, but has now been called home. He expects, and dreads, to be put out to pasture but is saved and put in charge of the Haven. The Haven is a London based unit focused on Russia but runs outside of the main Moscow center, so a real periphery. It is not an honorary appointment, more a pity one. Nonetheless, Nat prefers that to retirement. His wife, Prue, a human-rights lawyer is just satisfied he’s back in the country finally. His rebellious daughter less so, their relationship is strained at best.
At the Haven Nat meets Florence, a young passionate woman, focused on working with a lover of a Russian entrepreneur, who is obviously up to no good. Florence convinces Nat to support Operation Rosebud. At the same time, Nat regularly visits his badminton club. Throughout his life, he’s been an avid badminton player. At the club one day he is challenged by a newcomer, a thing unheard of, but he accepts the challenge. From then on he plays with Ed at least weekly, and when Ed wants to play doubles with his sister, Nat brings Florence along. All this leads to complications to say the least, especially with Ed’s radical views on Trump, Brexit and general state of the world. It seems every time Nat and Ed talk, it’s more of a tyrade by Ed.
I’ll sip the rest of the plot for obvious reasons. What I found amazing about this book is how it manages to keep the old-school vibe, but still be relevant. Nat is an old school spy, not overly keen on super-modern gadgetry, relying more on human intelligence. And in the end he is right, this is what makes the world turn – human interaction.
While for me this book was nowhere near to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy it did retain their slow burn and menace, as well as disillusionment. What else can I say? It is a very good book. A book for our times, but also from the times before. A bridge if you will.