At 88, novelist John le Carré continues to turn out books that writers of any younger age would kill to publish ... Before turning to What Happens Next, a word about le Carré's prose: Not only does it hold the coiled energy of a much younger writer, it fits the bitter, angry narrator's voice exceptionally well. That's important, because Agent Running in the Field relies less on action than some le Carré titles, and many other spy novels, and more on dialogue. If the author obsesses about betrayal, his mechanism for that obsession is the conversation ... The pre-publication press release tells us this is le Carré's 'Brexit novel,' but that diminishes a novel that may be a portrait in miniature of modern spies, but is in miniature as detailed and astonishing and entertaining as anything in its genre today.
... Carré [is] doubling down on his renowned and suspenseful opacity with an urgent first-person narrative that ranges from a Battersea health club to a hunting lodge in Karlovy Vary ... neither a hissy fit nor a high-noon shootout, but an autumnal threnody that reconciles rage to storytelling ... this new book demands the tribute of a rereading as much as a reading ... Publishing such a thriller at the age of 88, a feat of imaginative stamina that surpasses the tenacity of his idol Graham Greene, le Carré confirms his place at the head of his profession. Not many writers half his age could so successfully put Goethe and Sting into the same sentence. This may not be the finest novel he has ever written – Tinker, Tailor and the other great novels of the 1970s remain in a league of their own – but it’s still touched with his magic. His readers will know from his first line that they are in the presence of a great enchanter ... Le Carré delivers a tale for our times, replete with the classic seasoning of betrayal, secret state shenanigans and sad-eyed human frailty, all baked into an oven-hot contemporary thriller that’s partly inspired by the machinations of 21st-century Ukraine, today more than ever the fatal crossroads of great power politics ... right on the money, in psychology as much as politics, a demonstration of the British spy thriller at its unputdownable best ... Le Carré has not lost his master storyteller’s command of momentum.
...le Carré...in an always crowded arena, continues to demonstrate prowess. Agent Running in the Field may not have quite the strength of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold but although a little stiff, perhaps even occasionally flat-footed, once le Carré has limbered up there is no mistaking that he is still one of the masters of the game ...The novel does at times feel anachronistic. Le Carré’s style, particularly in the early chapters, is stilted and old-fashioned ... But once le Carré’s game is in full swing, he is close to unbeatable. Agent Running in the Field is a perfectly tight thriller, somehow managing to strip everything back to the essential plot without its direction ever becoming predictable ... Meanwhile, the book finds space for a quality arguably less prevalent in le Carré’s earlier work. This is a novel about spies and statecraft, and about marriage and parenthood, too, with a mellow, affectionate wisdom to round out the drama and political zeal.
His new novel contains several delicious set pieces...and each time one gets going there is the sense of a master enjoying himself hugely: the characters themselves seem to become cleverer and wittier as their puppeteer’s dialogic invention takes flight. It can sometimes seem, indeed, as though the rest of the book comprises merely the stuff that has to be efficiently moved into place, just so, in order that these charged conversations become possible ... it is...laced with fury at the senseless vandalism of Brexit and of Trump, and the way the one is driving Britain into the clammy embrace of the other. Cunningly, though, le Carré wrong-foots the reader to a degree by making the character who is a mouthpiece for this criticism a rather annoying, monomaniacal, friendless geek ... At 288 pages, Agent Running in the Field is a miniature compared with le Carré’s great cold war novels, and it lacks the ruthless clockwork precision of, say, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. But it is a very classy entertainment about political ideals and deception. There is a terrific scene set in a park, in particular, in which we gradually realize that all the bystanders are part of a huge team of 'watchers' marshalled by the spies to observe a secret conversation. The author leaves the reader to draw the disturbing inference that this—in the age of ambient corporate and state surveillance by ubiquitous technology—is simply the way we all live now.
John le Carré’s twenty-fifth novel, Agent Running in the Field, reflects on the threadbareness of post-imperial Britain and the 'mirage' of the country’s importance on the world stage ... When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Le Carré was apparently left without a clear subject: the USSR had evaporated, and with it the Cold War antagonisms that informed his spy fiction. Nevertheless he kept a hawk-eye on the new Russian oligarchs and their connections with private arms contractors and international fraudsters of one stripe or another. A bravura performance, Agent Running in the Field continues his exploration of corruption in the City of London and the money being pumped into it from Putin’s Moscow. At the age of eighty-eight, the author has lost little of his gift for creating Big Brother atmospherics and pages of taut dialogue.
John le Carré’s 25th novel is so topical it arrives with the beeping urgency of a news alert ... Trump himself has no speaking part in this dark, sometimes serio-comic, take on Russia’s malevolent role in the turmoil besetting Western democracies. But his name is often mentioned, and his face seems to press against the window of the novel like some creepy orange Halloween mask ... As usual, the characters le Carré respects, like Nat and his human-rights lawyer wife Prue, are lovingly examined in all their complexities, while his villains (Putin, Trump) are just as lovingly eviscerated.
If it is more politically nuanced than some of his books, in other ways it’s identikit le Carré. Nat (né Anatoly) is a sardonic, patrician, chippy veteran spy of dual English-Russian heritage – in sharp contrast to the narrator of le Carré’s last novel, Peter (né Pierre) Guillam, who was a sardonic, patrician, chippy veteran spy of dual English-French heritage ... As always, it is a sheer pleasure to read le Carré’s muscular prose. Few writers are so well able to convey strength and self-belief, with the result that the reader is forced to accept everything he says, sometimes against one’s better judgment ... What’s most remarkable is the way in which le Carré can still produce set-pieces of a type that he more or less invented 50 years ago and, at the age of 87, do them better than his scores of imitators ... although a minor work, it is probably his most tonally consistent and wholly successful novel for some time. And, yes, his MI6 may not be the MI6, but it’s an effective device for mirroring the current state of the country and showing why we might, in le Carré’s view, be heading to hell in a handcart.
... a fine piece of storytelling. It is a neat, compact, slow-burning tale with just the right amount of twisting and turning and misdirection. For Le Carré fans, it has the world-weary atmosphere that make his thrillers so evocative, brought to life in the odd telling detail ... The only clues that it was published in the week of his 88th birthday is the dialogue can be rather dated and his lack of interest in high-tech espionage. The old spycraft still reigns supreme ... Divided loyalties, uncertain motives, Russian agents, bureaucratic infighting, jaded spies, tatty offices — all of the things you want and expect from a high-quality Le Carré thriller are here.
Badminton’s not exactly babe-seducing, fast-car chasing James Bond, is it? While this novel has high-wire moments, le Carré doesn’t do Goldfinger. Rather, Nat’s first-person narrative heats up more like Earl Grey steeping – to be savored, not stirred ... a throwback to le Carré ’s first two novels starring another retired spy, George Smiley, the author’s most famous recurring character. Though unlike those Cold War settings, this novel's crises and controversies are clear and present ... While Agent Running in the Field isn’t a breathtaking thriller, it is a breathing and alive contemporary tale. Le Carré’s storytelling genius frequently causes pause to consider what a pleasure it is to read him, right up to the novel’s thought-provoking, albeit anticlimactic ending.
Le Carré’s mastery of tradecraft is as compelling as ever, and the long scene telling how Ed is caught in a spider’s web is as compelling as it is perplexing. There’s a very nice twist to it which took me by surprise ... The novel has been trailed as an anti-Brexit, anti-Trump book, and it is indeed that, the narrator being in understated agreement with the angry idealist, Ed. But it goes beyond that. Le Carré’s subject has always been corruption – corruption of the intellect and the spirit, the corrupting influence of power and money ... Yet this is a warmer novel than many of Le Carre’s books ... the story is more straightforward and the narrative lines clearer than was the case in Le Carré’s masterpieces ... his intellectual and emotional energy is undiminished. He remains angered by what should anger us all: duplicity, treachery, the arrogance and indifference of wealth and power, the readiness to use others as mere instruments. It is natural now that his masterpieces are behind him, but this is a very good, engaging and enjoyable novel, his best, I should say, since A Most Wanted Man.
... a new novel that seems, for the 88-year-old le Carré, to attempt a final reckoning with the fastidious equivocation that has defined his career ... This is not to say, of course, that either Nat or le Carré himself have cast aside the habits of a lifetime. Nat’s backwater posting proves no impediment to intrigue, and he is soon enmeshed in a conspiracy which, if not quite as grimly labyrinthine as those of yore, is more than involving enough to keep the pages turning ... Its denouement is satisfying on its own terms, but, considered as a coda to the le Carré oeuvre, its overtones seem quietly momentous. We live in such dark times, it suggests, that disillusioned agnosticism can no longer keep us safe. Even old spymasters, in the end, must emerge from the shadows and choose a side.
Le Carré is perhaps the preeminent cartographer of international malfeasance, and his portrayal of spycraft is as enthralling as ever. Although he eschews more modern kinds of espionage for old-fashioned, in-person document drops and the careful cultivation of human intelligence, his stories don’t feel remotely anachronistic. But his characters, at this point, might. Nat, a man in his mid-40s, has a diction that feels decidedly out of joint with his age and his era ... In many ways, the intrigue of Agent Running in the Field is secondary to its function as a renowned author’s scathing indictment of a country selling itself out ... the payoff, in the end, is less surprising and compelling than the setting: a country that, in le Carré’s portrayal, seems to be decaying from the inside out. Agents Running in the Field captures a Britain whose power, influence, and claims to integrity are shown to be absurdly overblown. Even so, as a new installment in le Carré’s canon, the book also demonstrates that Britain is still a potent cultural force. Film and TV producers are more enthused by le Carré’s novels than ever before, while the author himself—a little crankier, perhaps, than he once was—remains one of the most shrewd and sonorous voices willing to speak truth to power.
As an aging spy nearing the end of his career, Nat is a character familiar to fans of Le Carré, but it’s quite simply impossible to match the elegant determination and intelligence of George Smiley as a protagonist. We know Nat mostly for his obsession with badminton, his love of his wife Prue, and his typical distrust of senior management. Beyond that, the portrait is a little thin. Secondary characters are likewise somewhat underdone ... Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the novel is its ending, which feels hurried and rather truncated. One can only imagine the author working diligently away on his manuscript until suddenly receiving an email reminding him that his deadline to submit is the day after tomorrow. Time left only to bring things to a tidy close. Readers will be forgiven if they re-read the last 10 pages of the novel to figure out whether they missed something important. Nonetheless, Agent Running in the Field is a pleasure to read. It’s a worthy addition to the John Le Carré canon at a time when bestselling authors don’t always deliver the goods once they reach their 25th novel. No such worries in this case.
Ian McEwan has just published a novella about Brexit that is so bad-tempered and contemptuous of those he doesn’t agree with that it’s a betrayal of his talent. In Agent Running in the Field, John le Carré who celebrates his 88th birthday this weekend, has integrated the subject and his anger about it into fiction much more thoroughly and seductively ... scenes that give lots of scope to le Carré’s undiminished enjoyment of vivid characterisation and gamey, heavily accented dialogue ... as ingeniously structured as any of le Carré’s fiction, skilfully misdirecting the reader for much of the time. True, the language, though charming and fluent, feels like a burnished antique, never that of man in his forties now, belonging rather to an earlier era ... As always, there’s considerable genre-suitable sentimentality, about the young, about women, especially. But then le Carré has developed into an immensely stylised writer, the creator of his own fictional world. At this point in his career, we can only be grateful for another chance to join him there.
It would be a stretch to say that a few of the characters in Agent Running in the Field could have walked into it from the pages of a Sally Rooney novel, but le Carré does seem interested in and sympathetic to the millennial generation ... Le Carré has been a master chronicler of espionage for three generations because of his political negative capability: though he’s hardly a both-sider, he can inhabit opposing political stances and sensibilities, even within the same character. It remains to be seen whether Ed Shannon’s generation will produce a chronicler of the new world of espionage via bulk-collection practices and the human vacuum of metadata as sly and resourceful as the reigning master.
John le Carré delivers another page-turner, though maybe not quite to the level his readers have come to expect ... his latest falls just short as the author misses his mark ever so slightly. As always, the writing is top-notch, and the plotting is mostly spectacular, with at least one major twist that lands solidly—but then brings more questions than answers ... And that’s sort of the problem with this book. There’s a lot done right, that is really good, until it isn’t. Like the abrupt ending. Or the paper-thin characters. Maybe not Nat himself, but others sure are flat, including his wife ... Certainly not one of his best outings, but Agent Running in the Field flashes some of the qualities that have made John le Carré one of the most successful spy novelists in the history of the genre, and fans of his work will likely enjoy seeing him in action again.
He may be best known as a Cold War novelist, but John le Carré’s 25th novel couldn’t possibly be more contemporary ... A few plot twists are almost enough to undermine the reader’s confidence in the narrator: if he’s really such an expert old hand, how can he have missed these things? Yet le Carré’s writing is so strong he overcomes this quibble. He’s lost none of his master’s touch.
Every Le Carre novel is jam packed with surprises, and no one is who you think they are on first meeting ... The author is a master at introducing a character in a few vivid sentences that tell all ... Mr. Le Carre is a great one for keeping the reader guessing, and he’s also willing to let his hero take actions that might seem out of character with what we know of him thus far. Nothing is off-limits in a plot that tricks and fools the reader at just about every twist and turn.
Agent Running in the Field — an intentionally ambiguous title, no doubt — is le Carré’s 25th novel. The first and most important thing to say is that it’s a cracker. There was a whiff of weariness about his previous book, A Legacy of Spies, but here he writes as a man refreshed. Perhaps it’s an unexpected Brexit dividend ... Many of Le Carré’s novels explore the nature of loyalty, but here he gives it a different twist. The result is a rich, beautifully written book studded with surprises. Narrative is a black art, and Le Carré is its grandmaster.
It’s true that the plot depends on a coincidence of epic proportions, and that some episodes verge on the implausible. But this is an emotionally complex story, not an exercise in probability: what really matters is that we invest in the characters and we care what happens in their lives. I doubt I’ll read a better thriller this year.
The cat sat on the mat is not a story,' as John le Carré has opined, 'but ‘the cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is.' A neater summary of the writer’s craft would be hard to find — but for too much of his latest novel, le Carré ignores his own advice. This cat sits too long on its own mat ... Agent Running in the Field is in part an undisguised Remainer screed, an anguished howl of Hampstead (where le Carré has a house) angst and fury ... The pacing is slow at first. But when the cat does eventually get off its mat, after 100 pages or so, it picks up rapidly. The tradecraft of espionage, the organisation of an operation and surveillance scenes are all finely drawn and precisely engineered ... When he is on form, le Carré still delivers cracking prose ... Just when the story picks up, Ed and Florence have galloped off in another, somewhat unconvincing, direction, as though le Carré was not quite sure what to do with his cast of characters. The ending, while heart-warming, is almost whimsical. Le Carré is rightly acclaimed as one of our finest novelists ... But in the canon of a great writer, Agent Running in the Field is a minor work.
As usual, Agent Running in the Field is a model of supple, muscular prose. Le Carré’s sharply etched characters spring to life ... The book’s pacing is swift, the dialogue rings true, the plot twists are bracing and unexpected. The le Carré magic is apparent everywhere — until the very end ... The conclusion is not only a huge surprise but positively unfathomable, and not quite earned.
As anyone worth their trench coat knows, le Carré is the gold standard among spy novelists ... It is so wonderfully typical of le Carré to introduce a character who goes from mildly innocuous to rampantly pivotal ... among other things, a brilliantly multilayered examination of the disillusionment of aging spies. It turns a merciless eye on their secrets and their defections from the causes they once espoused. It lays bare at its center one of the author’s core beliefs: 'Promise nothing you can’t take back' ... The ending, if you can call it that, is ambiguous, unpredictable, deliciously outrageous. In good spy novels, there is no such thing as a clean getaway. But always with le Carré you get one helluva ride.
As always, it is fascinating to watch the tradecraft play out (le Carré remains a master at showing us what spies do, wily spiders to the unsuspecting flies they entrap), but that darker strain present in varying degrees throughout this seminal espionage novelist’s oeuvre—the inescapable conclusion that individual lives, not evil empires, are the real prey that spies and governments devour—overshadows all else.
Bestseller le Carré’s first spy thriller to focus on the Trump era disappoints ... Le Carré...telegraphs the book’s twist early on, and Nat is colorless compared with Magnus Pym and the author’s other nuanced leads. This is a missed opportunity
Now that he’s revisited and deepened the tissue of double-crosses that put him on the map with George Smiley, le Carré...evergreen at 87, turns to an equally hapless new hero in the age of Trump and Brexit ... A tragicomic salute to both the recuperative powers of its has-been hero and the remarkable career of its nonpareil author.