Agent Running in the Field

Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carre

Agent Running in the Field is a well-crafted espionage thriller by a master non pareil of the genre. If not one of his best, it falls short only of the high standards he himself set in masterpieces such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and it is still well ahead of the competition. Nat, Anatoly, of mixed Scottish and Russian parentage, was a member of Britain's Secret Service (referred to here as the Office), recruiting and running secret agents in various embassies all over Europe.

Returning after 25 years' service abroad, he is expecting retirement but is offered an appointment as head of the Haven, a home-based Russian substation. Nat plays badminton at his club, with a young man, Ed Shannon, who challenges him at the game. Nat befriends the young man, drinks beer with him and listens to Ed's angry discourses on the current state of the world. There is a young woman, Florence, at the Haven, who has set up a surveillance of a Russian oligarch in London, only to have it terminated from on high which leads to her resigning from her post. The Cold War has long since ended but Russia under Putin is a threat to liberal democracy. There is a high-level Russian spy in the Secret Service and it is Nat's assignment to uncover the mole. In his investigations, Nat makes a trip to the Czech Republic, a wonderfully atmospheric set piece, to meet a former double agent, Arkady, who has turned again and returned to his old allegiances. Arkady lives under maximum security in luxurious retirement where Nat plays badminton with him, on his private court, naturally. This must surely be the only spy novel in which the game of badminton features so prominently.

As always, the pleasure in reading a Le Carre book is in the nuts and bolts, the tradecraft, of the business of spying. The recruiting and management of agents by their handlers, the elaborate means of contact set up, the apparatus of modern surveillance, all are lovingly detailed. This is also the novel in which Le Carre, a committed European, expresses his anger at what in his opinion is the disaster that is Brexit. 'Brexit is self-immolation. The British public is being marched over a cliff by a bunch of rich elitist carpetbaggers posing as men of the people.' The writer uses his command of the English language to deliver, conveniently through the mouths of characters in the novel, a furious, expletive-laden, bashing of the 'sheer bloody lunacy of Brexit'.

Submitted by Vidya