HODDER & STOUGHTON £18.99 (341PP) £17.09 (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897

A Most Wanted Man, by John le Carré

Misfires and misrule in the war of hearts and minds

When the Cold War ended, it seemed for a time that a whole genre of novels had been wiped out with it. The epic struggle between the West and the USSR was over, removing the favourite subject-matter of novelists such as Len Deighton and John le Carré. Where would they go? What would they do? Martin Cruz Smith, author of Gorky Park, found a rich seam in post-Soviet Russia, as have new writers such as Alex Dryden, whose acclaimed first novel Red to Black is an urgent warning about the global ambitions of Moscow.

Le Carré has gone in a different direction. In The Constant Gardener, he turned to Africa and found a new adversary in global drug companies using the poorest people in the world to test new drugs. But the decades of Cold War espionage keep drawing him back, and the friendship at the heart of Absolute Friends took him into the old East Germany, territory he mastered a long time ago.

That novel ended, not entirely successfully, with a collision between le Carré's old spies and the post-9/11 world; its mood shifted abruptly from elegiac to enraged, abandoning the ambiguities which were a feature of his earlier work. His new novel, A Most Wanted Man, plunges into the midst of the war on terror and the moral landscape it has created.

Its protagonist is a disturbed young man who arrives illegally in Hamburg after spells in prison in Turkey and Russia. Issa is Chechen, but doesn't speak the language; he is a Muslim, but doesn't know the difference between Sunni and Shia; he is on the run, but has an unexplained stash of cash. He says he is seeking asylum and wants to train as a doctor, but Western intelligence agencies believe he is a dangerous terrorist.

The sarcastic double meaning of the title – Issa inspires passionate love as well as the close attention of several intelligence services – is a signal that le Carré is, if anything, even angrier than when he wrote Absolute Friends. His spies operate in a murky, recognisable world in which the Russian military casually committed war crimes in Chechnya and senior KGB men spirited their ill-gotten gains into secret bank accounts.

Issa is the beneficiary of one of those accounts, set up in an English bank which used to have its headquarters in Switzerland until it relocated to Hamburg. Its head is Tommy Brue, son of the founder and a typical le Carré character: educated at a public school in Scotland; overshadowed by his dominating father; about to be sidelined by his socially ambitious second wife. When Issa enters his life, he is a failure in the unspectacular way of men of his class and generation.

Tommy falls in love with Issa's lawyer, Annabel Richter, a young woman who has abandoned her own privileged background to work in a law centre. These two isolated people join forces to protect Issa while they try to persuade him to claim the fortune which is legally his. At the same time, Issa is being watched by Gunther Bachmann, a maverick spy in the German intelligence service who wants to use him to catch a bigger fish: a "moderate" imam who is suspected of channelling funds to terrorists.

Bachmann is one of le Carré's good guys, nothing much to look at and distrusted by his superiors, but clearly the novel's moral centre. He isn't too worried by an emaciated Chechen boy who has been tortured to the edge of reason, but his humanity isn't shared by rival spooks from his own service, the CIA and British intelligence. Hardened by 9/11 and other atrocities, they work on the assumption that every suspect is guilty and don't care too much about their methods.

This is a slow-moving novel, with characters who feel like flatter versions of people who have appeared in John le Carré's earlier books; Annabel, in particular, is more a combination of gestures and attitudes than a fully-drawn character.

It is fiction as polemic, a vehicle for le Carré's passionate hatred of what Western governments have done in the struggle against Islamist terrorism. Instead of ambiguity and moral dilemmas, it is driven by a self-righteous certainty which turns the novel into a surprisingly dull read.

Joan Smith's novel 'What Will Survive' is published by Arcadia

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor