A Former Spy Myself, I Found This Book Generally Lacking,
January 20, 2004
John le Carre
John Le Carre writes two kinds of books: truly riveting and gloriously accurate depictions of the spy world, and more labored pseudo-literature that over-reaches and disappoints. This book falls into the latter category.As one who has both read much of what Le Carre has written, and also had the privilege of being a clandestine case officer (spy under official cover), I was initially taken with the concept of the book, despite its obvious intent to resurrect the genre in the aftermath of 9-11, but soon found myself bored beyond belief. It is closer to “The Naive and Sentimental Lover” side of Le Carre, than to the more deservedly riveting Tinker, Tailor, Drummer Girl, or Smiley’s People, Looking Glass War side of Le Carre.
There was a time, absent good non-fiction on the spy world, when Le Carre’s work, his George Smiley work especially, not only delighted but informed. Now, with so many truly top-notch non-fiction books about intelligence (for instance, those by Milt Bearden, Robert Baer) one is really much better off reading non-fiction for fun. See my short and long lists of intelligence books (as well as emerging threats and blowback/dissent in foroeign affairs) for a sense of what non-fiction can deliver these days in the way of compelling and disturbing real-world spy reading.