John le Carré at his best is an intricate plotter and storyteller who depicts the spy game as you never see it in Hollywood (well, except when Hollywood is making adaptations of John le Carré novels) — gritty and sleazy and all sharp but blurry edges, full of generally unpleasant people who are rarely acting out of high falutin' morality. At his worst, he's a cranky old man who's angry at the world, which is what you seem to get in his later novels. Which is not to say he's any less of a writer, but kind of like The Mission Song
, another book about a naive POC who gets sold out by unprincipled Western spy masters, A Most Wanted Man
ups the ante by having the central figure in this tale, an idealistic, unlettered Muslim, screwed over by half a dozen countries by the end of the book.
The action takes place in Germany, one of le Carré's favorite haunts before and after the Cold War. Issa is a Muslim from Chechnya who has been snuck into the country, after having spent time in various hells from Chechnya to Turkey. He seeks help from a German civil rights lawyer named Annabel, who finds out that Issa's father left him a very large sum of money, held by a small British bank run by Tommy Brue. Unfortunately, Issa's father was a very bad man. Even more unfortunately, the intelligence apparatus of the entire Western world seems to have picked up on Issa's presence and sees him as a way of getting at a much larger prize, a wanted Muslim financier of terrorism and jihad. Issa finds both Annabel and Tommy drawn into his plight and reluctantly taking up his cause, trying to find him refuge and a new life in the West, which brings them into the sights of the same men watching Issa.
Characteristic of le Carré novels, pretty much everyone lies at one point or another in this book and everything about every character will be cast into doubt. Le Carré's passion seems to be showing how ruthlessly and unjustly innocent people can be ground up in the gears of "national security." Issa, Annabel, and Tommy come from very different stations in life, but they're all just collateral damage in the War on Terror.
This isn't my favorite le Carré novel so far, as his angry edge seemed just a bit too sharp and obvious, especially towards the (inevitable and rather predictable) ending. But it's still a gritty, well-crafted story, highly critical of the War on Terror without particularly defending the terrorists who are the alleged bad guys of this book. Le Carré carefully sets up his characters and his situations, firmly grounding them in the real world, making everything completely believable, and then he starts kicking people in the teeth.
A fine book, but one I am inclined to give 3.5 stars, as somewhere in the complicated interpersonal relationships and spy games, I failed to find any real heart in this story.