My version: Hardback
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
Publisher: Harper Collins
First published: 2019
Nat, a 47 year-old veteran of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, believes his years as an agent runner are over. He is back in London with his wife, the long-suffering Prue. But with the growing threat from Moscow Centre, the office has one more job for him. Nat is to take over The Haven, a defunct substation of London General with a rag-tag band of spies. The only bright light on the team is young Florence, who has her eye on Russia Department and a Ukrainian oligarch with a finger in the Russia pie.
Nat is not only a spy, he is a passionate badminton player. His regular Monday evening opponent is half his age: the introspective and solitary Ed. Ed hates Brexit, hates Trump and hates his job at some soulless media agency. And it is Ed, of all unlikely people, who will take Prue, Florence and Nat himself down the path of political anger that will ensnare them all. Agent Running in the Field is a chilling portrait of our time, now heartbreaking, now darkly humorous, told to us with unflagging tension by the greatest chronicler of our age.
I don’t know about the greatest chronicler of our age bit, the copywriter’s pen seems to have got ahead of them there, though the rest is pretty much on the money.
I’m always a great one for good titles, ones that can, I think, be read a couple of ways. As here. Agent, Running In The Field. But also Agent-Running, In The Field. The double nature of the title, sets the scene for a really excellent book. Not least because, if you think about it, JlC when not writing about The Circus, Smiler, Karla and all (to be fair, we are some 40-odd years after any of that, not withstanding the recent A Legacy Of Spies), he has to invent another British intelligence world. He doesn’t pretend that this is the same service just now, not as far as I can tell. This is a different timeline. So, for me, it is incredibly impressive, that he can re-invent the British Intelligence world, anew, for a second time. I would admit, that some of the grittiness and down-to-earth-ness of ARITF, seemed to owe something to the likes of Mick Heron (admittedly I’ve only read the first of his Sloan Square series). Or is it the other way round? Or is the circle completing and starting again?
And, it is good that he has his chance to comment, through his characters, on the disastrous dog’s dinner that is Brexit. Again, as with American thriller writers and their president, when the government in power at the time of the novel’s setting, it must be hard work to write as if the people at the top actually know what their doing, or have any principles, without sounding like you’re unbelievably naive. It’s also an act of rescuing my teenage novel reading experience to know his views on Brexit and Trump are similar to mine
I’ve read and re-read down the years all the Circus books (my favourite is/was, maybe swimming against the tide here, always The Honourable Schoolboy), so it is both easy to get back into the JlC groove and difficult not to imagine either Toby Esterhouse popping up, or wondering just what Smiley would have done. For new readers of John le Carré, it is a good primer. All the le Carré characteristics of deft plotting, leading up the garden path-ery and tension from the ordinary, are here, and while the plot isn’t perhaps as riveting as some of his earlier work, that’s just me thinking that. Other comments I’ve seen have been much more ecstatic.