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Agent Running in the Field

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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.

282 pages, Hardcover

First published October 22, 2019

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About the author

John le Carré

371 books8,089 followers
John le Carré, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England), was an English author of espionage novels. Le Carré had resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for more than 40 years, where he owned a mile of cliff close to Land's End.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,121 reviews
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
March 29, 2021
”I possess a rugged charm and the accessible personality of a man of the world. I am in appearance and manner a British archetype, capable of fluent and persuasive argument in the short term. I adapt to circumstance and have no insuperable moral scruples. I can be irascible and am not by any means immune to female charms. I am not naturally suited to deskwork or the sedentary life, which is the understatement of all time. I can be headstrong and do not respond naturally to discipline. This can be both a defect and a virtue.”

After decades of assignments overseas, Nat is finally back in London. His long suffering wife, Prue, is happy to have him home. The problem is that, when an agent as long in the tooth as Nat is called home, it usually means it is time for the golden handshake and a boot out the door. An unexpected reprieve occurs, and he is asked to run a department. Politics is not really Nat’s thing, but he will take just about any position to stay in the service just a while longer. It puts off that rather daunting decision of deciding what to do with the rest of his life.

This story really comes down to one pivotal moment, which seems insignificant at the time. A young man marches into Nat’s club and demands a badminton match. Nat is club champion and has taken on his share of challengers over the years, but few have been this forceful in their demands. Before I hung up my basketball high tops, I was routinely playing against players two decades or more younger than me. I had to learn to conserve energy and play with more wile than power. Nat is exactly at that point in his badminton career as well. He has had a good run, but just like with his job, he is able to be a gamer for a bit longer using brains rather than brawn before he is forced to hang up the racket for good.

Ed is young, obsessed, and judgemental about nearly everything. He is a man trying to find his way through life, and right now naiveness is making him bluster and blunder, which frequently brings a knowing smile to Nat’s lips. They are an unlikely pairing to be friends, but then sometimes those prove to be the friendships that are the most resilient. Here is Ed’s sum up of the current state of things. ”It is my considered opinion that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the US is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none.”

As Ed rails against the world, Nat, a career Nationalist, sits there sipping his beer with a knowing smile on his face. John Le Carre uses the Ed character to express his own frustration with the current state of affairs. Nat doesn’t necessarily disagree with Ed, but he, of course, would probably state things with fewer incendiary words. I think there are many people, good people, caught on the wrong side of things right now, who disagree with the direction of their country, but are quietly going about their business hoping the winds will shift in time.

Ed is a man who wants to do more than just complain. He wants to do something to enact change. There is a boy scout aspect to him that reminds me of Pyle from The Quiet American, a book which has been on my mind lately. A timely book to reread, I think, in the face of our current political chaos. Nat soon finds himself jammed up because of his association with Ed. Is this kerfuffle a mountain or a molehill? Poor Prue, is this yet another thing she will have to deal with? In a time of over reactions, can Nat keep a steady hand on things?

When Nat is asked about Ed, he says something that really resonates with me because it reminds me of the 2016 election. ”It merely crossed my mind that the puritanical side of him might think the West needs punishing. That’s all.” This is often the case for justification that many traitors make regarding their decision to betray their country. By being a traitor, they are actually the ultimate patriot. There were many liberal voters who felt that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party needed to be punished for not being progress enough to embrace Bernie Sanders. These dissatisfied people either refused to vote, voted for a third party candidate, or even grabbed the third rail and voted for Trump. They felt the people of America deserved to have Trump.

They were wrong. No matter what our sins. We did not deserve this.

John Le Carre has never been shy about expressing his own political views in his novels. What is even more impressive to me is that he is 88 years old and still manages to produce a new book nearly every year. He still writes each novel long hand on yellow notebooks, so all of you writers out there who insist you need the newest, fanciest software to write a book might be putting too many bells and whistles in the way of having a thought and writing it down. Le Carre, despite his left leaning politics, manages to retain readers from both sides of the political spectrum. I know several people who are very proud of the fact that they ONLY read nonfiction who, like a character from a Le Carre novel, read his books surreptitiously.

If you have never read a Le Carre novel, this wouldn’t be a bad one to start with. It makes for a good gateway drug into his more convoluted, brilliant novels that may require a slide rule, a diagram, and some clever pondering to keep up with. No worries. Even if you do become lost occasionally in some of his novels, Le Carre will appear out of the fog, wearing a trenchcoat and a knowing smile, and will lead you back to a lighted street to find your way back home.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Beata.
729 reviews1,115 followers
November 27, 2019
John le Carre is one of those authors that I have been reading for years, and spy novels he offers stay with me for many years. I have not read all of his books but those which I have I can still remember rather well.
'Agent Running in the Field' is very much in le Carre's writing style and storytelling. The nuances and niceties cannot be presented better if you are looking for a novel telling you about the art (?) of spying and at the same time you are interested in human nature. The fragility and ruthlessness intermingle and keeping your head cool and senses alert is the essence ...
Spy novels is not my favourite genre, however, I never refuse a JlC novel since I know I will read a book about human nature and reactions rather.
I was lucky to have listened to this novel read by the Author, and he does it masterfully.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
December 17, 2019
The Camel’s-Back Syndrome

Democracy is inherently amoral; certainly more so than dictatorships which tend to have rigid codes of behaviour and predictable (if often unpleasant) relationships. Nothing about a democratic society is stable or reliable. That’s it’s hidden cost, which from time to time unhides itself in phenomena like Trump and Brexit. The Catholic Church recognised this explicitly in a string of 19th century encyclicals that have never been taken off the books. Agent Running in the Field is a sort of summary of why the Church takes such a dim view of democracy.

First, in a democratic society it is presumed that everyone has his or her own interests which one has the right, no the duty, to pursue. Of course this includes members of government and civil servants, even though no one likes to speak of this. The consequence is corruption as an ideal. If you’re not in it for gain, you’re really not a player.

Second, the inherent re-valuation of values that goes on constantly within a democracy implies an absence of ethical foundations. A society that believes it is charge of its own morals can end up with some very strange behaviour and even stranger leadership. And without some form of externally confirmed criteria, there is nothing to constrain the idiocy of the worst among us.

Finally, democratic societies cannot learn - largely because no one can agree by what standard to judge that to be learned. Every person has his own interpretation. So technological knowledge can be accumulated; but moral knowledge cannot in a democracy. History has no real meaning to those who believe they can reinvent themselves to suit the demands of the day. The present is always exceptional; tradition is always archaic. Continuity is demonstrated only on the discontinuous action and counter-action of alternating governments and fluctuating electoral demands. Consequently democracies don’t adapt, they merely find new ways to repeat the same mistakes.

Le Carré as usual tells a good story - all the pieces neatly laid out and wrapped up nicely in the end. Well nearly so. It’s clear in this one that he’s having some reservations about which gangland boss, Putin or Trump, is more representative of democratic government. I think he might be leaning toward the view of the Catholic Church when one of his characters points out the problem of the “camel’s-back syndrome, when the things you’re not allowed to talk about suddenly outweigh the things that you are, and you go down temporarily under the strain?” ‘Temporarily’ may be an optimistic assessment. The Holy Roman Empire, perhaps, wasn’t so bad.

Postscript 17December19: I just ran across this in my notes from Richard Hofstader’s 1963 Anti-Intellectualism in American Life , which more concisely captures my intention in the above comments (See https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
“One reason why the political intelligence of our time is so incredulous and uncomprehending in the presence of the right-wing mind is that it does not reckon fully with the essentially theological concern that underlies right-wing views of the world. Characteristically, the political intelligence, if it is to operate at all as a kind of civic force rather than as a mere set of maneuvers to advance this or that special interest, must have its own way of handling the facts of life and of forming strategies. It accepts conflict as a central and enduring reality and understands human society as a form of equipoise based upon the continuing process of compromise. It shuns ultimate showdowns and looks upon the ideal of total partisan victory as unattainable, as merely another variety of threat to the kind of balance with which it is familiar. It is sensitive to nuances and sees things in degrees. It is essentially relativist and skeptical, but at the same time circumspect and humane.
The fundamentalist mind will have nothing to do with all this; it is essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities. It cannot find serious importance in what it believes to be trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are for all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a variant of Communism which, as everyone knows, is atheism.”
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,152 reviews1,690 followers
November 16, 2021

Londra: la sede centrale dell’MI5 e MI6.

Nat è nato Anatoly, poi anglicizzato in Nathan e abbreviato in Nat. È una spia.
Una spia di quelle che reclutano altre spie: che convincono persone deluse, o al contrario idealiste, o semplicemente avide di denaro, a tradire il proprio paese e lavorare per il suo.
Il suo, il paese di Nat, è l’Inghilterra.
E quindi, Nat lavora per l’MI6, generalmente chiamato l’Office.

Badminton: una partita di doppio. Nat di solito gioca in singolare.

Non è che Nat sia particolarmente convinto dei valori superiori eterni e adamantini che l’Inghilterra difende e rappresenta. Men che meno da quando c’è stata la Brexit e il suo paese s’è messo a tappetino davanti a Trump (ma non ha fatto la stessa cosa anche con Bush padre e figlio?), e contemporaneamente, o di conseguenza, visto il feeling tra Donald e Vladimir, s’è prostrata anche davanti alla Russia di Putin. Le Carré non fa mistero di cosa pensa a riguardo.

Un film di e sulle spie che ho amato molto, tratto da un romanzo di Le Carré: “A Most Wanted Man – La spia” di Anton Corbijn con Philip Seymour Hoffmann, magnifico attore che mi manca molto, grave perdita.

Ma è particolarmente bravo a reclutare gente, a convincerla, ad addestrarla, a proteggerla. Bravura che deriva in parte dal suo essere inglese, ma anche un po’ russo e un po’ francese e un po’ tedesco, profondamente europeo, portato per le lingue. Il suo terreno di caccia è sempre stata l’ex Unione Sovietica: Russia, Ungheria, Ucraina, paesi Baltici…

Nat è un fulmine a formulare pensieri operativi di prim’ordine, ma non ha la stessa dimestichezza con le scartoffie. Corre, gioca a badminton, va in palestra: a 47 anni ha un fisico in perfetta forma che dimostra meno anni di quelli anagrafici.

Nat vive a Battersea.

Della trama meglio tacere: è bello scoprirla da soli, un po’ per volta, colpi di scena inclusi (almeno uno previsto), compreso il finale non proprio irrisolto, di quelli che si definisco ‘aperti’ (e c’è chi li odia – ma non io).
Sul protagonista invece mi sono speso perché secondo me la scrittura e il tono di Le Carré si adattano benissimo alle sue caratteristiche, il quasi ottantanovenne ha un piglio da ragazzino. Chapeau!
Tanto più che il romanzo è una sorta di diario, o memoriale, un racconto a posteriori dedicato a chi non è chiaro. Rispetto a tanti altri Le Carré, qui tono e scrittura sono secchi, svelti, dinamici, quasi frizzanti, senza tirate, o lunghe riflessioni, nessuna digressione: fatti e azione. Molto divertente, letto in quarantotto ore.

Nat e sua moglie fanno passeggiate in questo parco.

La stessa velocità d’azione e pensiero di Nat, quella velocità di scrittura e trama adottata da le Carré, si ritrova nello sport che qui è centrale: il badminton.
Sport di cui conoscevo solo il nome e niente altro avrei potuto aggiungere: adesso sono diventato un fan, sono andato a documentarmi, mi piace molto, e quando sento dire che il volano può raggiungere i 350 chilometri orari rimango di stucco. Questa sì che è velocità.

Il titolo italiano mi lascia perplesso: quel “running” tradotto in “corre” mi pare un po’ troppo letterale, si tratta di agente in azione più che di corsa.

John Le Carré
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,688 followers
November 8, 2019
"Nothing endures that is not fought for."
- John le Carré , Agent Running in the Field


OK Boomer.

First, amazement. I can't believe JlC is still writing great fiction at 88. There are several writers who I feel the weight of time heavy on (John le Carré, John McPhee, and Robert Caro). They all happen to be some of my favorite writers ever, so anytime one of them writes something new it is like oxygen on my reading fire.

This novel feels a bit like the 3rd* major interation of le Carré. His first novels were Cold War espionage (Smiley novels, etc), his second were post-Cold War, late stage Capitalism. This book, published when he was 88, is a hard screed against the Nationalisms of Russian, Britain, and especially Trump's America. He is angry and he writes beautiful angry prose.

Here are some of my favorite lines about Brexit and Trump:

"Do you or do you not regard Trump, which I do, as a threat and incitement to the entire civilized world, plus he is presiding over the systematic no-holds-barred Nazificaiton of the United States?"

"He's Putin's shithouse cleaner. He does everything for little Vladi that little Vladi can't do for himself; pisses on European unity, pisses on human rights, pisses on Nato. Assures us that Crimea and Ukraine belong to the Holy Russian Empire, the Middle East belongs to the Jew and the Saudis, and to hell with the world Order."

"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 ending is a bit too clean and a bit too hopeful? I dunno. I still have to untangle it a bit. Not top-shelf le Carré, but good and solid spy fiction from the MASTER of spy fiction.

* Fourth if you count his brief flirtation with crime fiction.
Profile Image for Elizabeth George.
Author 114 books4,822 followers
January 21, 2020
I hate the stars. Always ignore them and read the review instead. This is vintage LeCarre, so for his longtime fans and readers (count me among them), it's a good read. But one of the things LeCarre always does is what I call taking no prisoners in his books. What I mean by this is that he has a tendency to throw an enormous cast of characters at you with the expectation that you will remember them. Your choice is either to keep a list or continue to flip back to recall who each person is. Or you can always finish the book and then re-read it at once, which I have been known to do. But the style is, as always, wonderful. He has lost none of his power despite now being in his late 80s. And, as my UK editor once said about him, "He'll never stop writing as long as he's angry." And boy is he angry at the current state of US/UK/European relations. And US/UK leaders. He's not afraid to say it, either.
Profile Image for Tim.
2,131 reviews200 followers
February 6, 2020
Awful. Boring. Senseless. 0 of 10 stars
Profile Image for Mark.
464 reviews16 followers
September 21, 2019
At the age of eighty-eight, there is no doubt that the John Le Carre that I revere is fully present. The narrative voice employed in this novel is fantastic, as we follow a middle-aged spy who has come in from abroad and is stationed in a dead-end job in London (think a more serious version of Mick Herron's Slough House). And interesting questions are raised about what loyalty to country means in the age of Brexit and Trump. But Le Carre does not hit a home run with every book; the story told here just isn't up to his best, and the very sudden ending leaves too much open for my taste.

If you're a Le Carre fan you should definitely read this - there's still lots to like. But if you haven't read much of his work, there are far better places to start.
Profile Image for Tea Jovanović.
Author 410 books673 followers
October 15, 2019
Maestro of written word... Ingredients of this spy novel are all current goings on... It's hard to be objective for someone who has been his Serbian editor for years... Pure spy novel pleasure mixed with lingustic pleasure...
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,427 reviews2,506 followers
November 16, 2019
After a slightly slow start, this turns around at about the 50% mark and suddenly becomes utterly gripping - in a I-can't-sleep-till-I've-finished-this kind of way. And when I say 'slow' about the start, I mean slow in a good way, not dull and crawling.

We're no longer in Smiley's world and while some of the old skool types are still around, The Office (no longer The Circus) is far more inclusive (to some extent): we have female Florence, our narrator has a Guardian-reading lawyer/activist wife, and one of the central characters has a conscience around which the whole plot revolves.

This is certainly simpler than the earlier books and nothing like as convoluted as, say, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Smiley's People, or even The Constant Gardener. Billed as le Carré's 'angry at Brexit' book, it pulls together a plot involving Brexit, Trump and Putin that won't surprise anyone who followed the ongoing Russian interference in the 2016 US election story - although le Carré does pull off a rather marvellous sleight of hand towards the end.

With a fairy-tale/wish-fulfillment ending that won't satisfy everyone, I wouldn't describe this as vintage le Carré. There's a *massive* coincidence that pulls the plot together and the characterisation of Florence, so important to the story, isn't especially credible: . Nevertheless, this is always readable, intelligent about contemporary politics, and has a more compassionate ending than some of the bleaker books. I enjoyed it hugely.
Profile Image for Woman Reading .
431 reviews270 followers
February 13, 2021
3.5 ☆ rounded up
Sometimes in life you get caught for sins you haven’t committed.
After spending more than half his life abroad in service of his Queen, Nat returns home to the UK. At age 47, Nat is nearing his expiration date as an agent runner for Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, aka the Office.
I adapt to circumstances and have no insuperable moral scruples. I can be irascible and am not by any means immune to female charms.

I can be headstrong and do not respond naturally to discipline. ...in need, I can be relied upon to exhibit the required callousness...
The Office contains a deep bureaucracy in which the Peter Principle periodically appears. The duplicitous Dom has recently become a division head and requests Nat, who is fluent in Russian, to head the Haven, a substation for has-been and low-ranking Russian spies.

Devoted in his spare time to his athletics club, Nat is a sporty type who is also the club's reigning champion of badminton.
For unbelievers, badminton is a namby-pamby version of squash for overweight men afraid of heart attacks. For true believers there is no other sport. ... To fellow athletes, we're a bit weird, a bit friendless.
His reputation has attracted the competitive attention of Ed, another badminton enthusiast -
this six-foot something, gawky, bespectacled young man with a sense of solitude about him and an embarrassed half-smile.

I was in the presence of something rare in the life I had led so far, and particularly in such a young man: namely true conviction, driven not by motives of gain or envy or revenge or self-aggrandizement, but the real thing take it or leave it.

Here are a professional spy who plays in the morally ambiguous areas and a really opinionated, idealistic young man meeting during a time of great political upheaval. What could possibly happen? The UK is preparing for Brexit. President Trump is visiting the UK. And Russia is perceived as a threat.
"And ever since we kicked out [Russia's] legal spies in bulk" - meaning spies with diplomatic cover, so my sort - "they've been flooding our shores with illegals," she goes on indignantly, "who I think you'll agree are the most troublesome of the species and the most difficult to smell out."

I've seen film adaptations of le Carre's works, but this was my first experience with his novels. In this case, I listened to an audiobook performed by le Carre himself, which was highly entertaining. I could only hope to be as mentally acute as him at age 88. The wit, spiky humor, and psychological insights retained my attention during what was a slow and methodical establishment of the setting. It wasn't until the 55 percent mark, that I began to get an idea of the plot's direction. Prior to that I had been toying with the thoughts that Ed was a Christopher Wylie researcher a la Cambridge Analytica. Or that Ed with his very firm opinions of western politics was actually trying to recruit and turn Nat.
"If a traitor doesn’t surprise the shit out of us, he’s no bloody good at his job."

Read Agent Running in the Field if you want to discover whether my random musings were on point. Because once I passed the 60 percent mark, I disregarded a healthy bedtime to find out how this plotline would conclude. Was I satisfied? Not entirely, hence the 3.5 ☆ rating . But I'm rounding up my rating because the audiobook frequently made me laugh and all of le Carre's double meanings kept me on my toes. It was mostly a great ride and I will look into his earlier novels.
Profile Image for Dana Stabenow.
Author 126 books1,909 followers
June 12, 2022
I finished this book last night and went to bed thinking about it and woke up thinking about it and it's been a while since a book made me think this long or this hard. It reminds me of Robert Heinlein's novella "If This Goes On." Heinlein's novella is more of a prequel to Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale but Le Carre's novel is the same kind of "if this goes on this is what happens next."

Le Carre is looking at Trump and Brexit through the eyes of spies and if this goes on what happens next. What happens next is a cabal of spies, US and UK, get together to work on a secret agreement to form a union of two countries against the rest of the world, destroying the European Union and the Pax Americana while they're at it, la la. It doesn't sound that out there, and it sure doesn't read that way, either. The spy's eye view is coldly informative, to say the least, as here when Le Carre's hero, Nat, remembers

The date, never to be forgotten by either of us, is 16 July. We have played our usual strenuous match. I have lost again, but never mind, get used to it. Casually, towels round our necks, we head for our Stammitsch anticipating the usual sporadic Monday-evening clatter of voices and glasses in a largely empty room. Instead we are met by an unnatural, fidgety silence. At the bar, a half-dozen of our Chinese members are staring at a television screen that is routinely given over to sport of any kind from anywhere. But this evening we are not for once watching American football or Icelandic ice hockey but Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The two leaders are in Helsinki giving a joint press conference. they are standing shoulder to shoulder before the flags of both their nations. Trump, speaking as if to order, is disowning the findings of his own intelligence services, which have come up with the inconvenient truth that Russia interfered in the 2016 American presidential election. Putin smiles his proud jailer's smile...A commentator reminds, us, lest we have forgotten, that only yesterday Trump declared Europe to be his enemy and for good measure trashed NATO.

Ouch. Previously one of Nat's old informants tells him

You know what Trump is?...He's Putin's shithouse cleaner. He does everything for little Vladi that little Vladi can't do for himself: pisses on European unity, pisses on human rights, pisses on NATO. Assures us that Crimea and Ukraine belong to the Holy Russian Empire, the Middle East belongs to the Jews and the Saudis, and to hell with the world order. And you Brits, what do you do? You suck his dick and invite him to tea with your Queen. You take our black money and wash it for us. You welcome us if we're big enough crooks. You sell us half London. You wring your hands when we poison our traitors and you say please, please, dear Russian friends, trade with us. Is this what I risked my life for? I don't believe so. I believe you Brits sold me a cartload of hypocritical horseshit. So don't tell me you've come here to remind me of my liberal conscience and my Christian values and my love of your great big British Empire. That would be an error..."

A big one. When a Sister Service paper pusher and a true believer in the EU discovers the conspiracy and is busted trying to give it to the Germans, Ned's boss says

Point about Trump is, he's a gang boss, born and bred. Brought up to screw civil society all ways up, not be part of it...And poor little Vladi Putin never had any democratic potty training at all...Born a spy, still a spy, with Stalin's paranoia to boot. Wakes up every morning amazed the West hasn't blown him out of the water with a pre-emptive strike.

But Ned's Service is still prepared to deal if they can only retain the shreds of power left to them, which is predicated on the gang boss.

A thoroughly uncomfortable and illuminating look in the mirror if you're American. Recommended.
Profile Image for SlowRain.
115 reviews
October 25, 2019
Much has been made about this novel--set in 2018--being John le Carré's Brexit and Trump novel, and the fury with which it was written. And, while that is true to a certain extent, and even plays a crucial role in the plot, it isn't a scathing polemic on the matter. What I believe will happen is left-leaning reviewers will praise it, and right-leaning reviewers will condemn it, solely on political grounds. What you won't be hearing in all the hubbub, though, is a lot of praise for its literary merit.

For the initiated, this is le Carré lite. Loyal readers noticed a change in style--and not just subject matter--after the Cold War ended. They also noticed a change in 2000 to a more political and social mantra. With his previous novel, A Legacy of Spies, there was another simplification of his narrative style. I originally thought it was because, it being a sequel to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold--which itself had a simple narrative style owing to le Carré's early days--he didn't want to bowl over readers who may not have kept up with his writing in the interim. (In addition, I also think he's trying to increase the exposure and "filmability" of the novel now that his sons are in the movie-making business and have sole rights to his catalog.) So I'd say this is the new le Carré for modern audiences. The man who had previously elevated the spy novel to Literature status and made it about the journey has now resorted to plot twists.

The narrative moves fast, if not the plot--not that his plots ever did. There is little time for exposition or building much in the way of credibility. Everything has to be taken at face value because it has been written down and is staring the reader in the face, so therefore we have no choice but to accept it. It is neither a slow nor a long read, so it won't consume much time or effort either way.

The title, and both the US and UK covers, seems misleading as well. There is no running in the novel. I believe someone mentions jogging, and they do play badminton, but nothing that breaks a sweat off of the badminton court. That leads me to believe the title has another meaning. It could be a punctuation issue, instead being Agent-Running, in the Field, but it isn't really a novel of espionage tradecraft. Rather, I believe it refers to the directionless, zig-zagging of someone crashing haphazardly through an unfamiliar space. In that regard, the title is very post-modern, because that also seems to be how le Carré wrote the novel.

Who should read it? People who like straight-forward page-turners with ups and downs and twists. Who should not read it? Anyone who admires and respects what he published between 1974 and 1989.
Profile Image for Lorna.
680 reviews368 followers
May 1, 2020
Agent Running in the Field is the latest book from one of my favorite British authors, John le Carre. It was as sharp as all of his previous espionage novels, and one just needs to hang on for a lot of thrilling twists and turns, but I promise that it will make sense as we see all of these disparate threads come together in such a satisfying ending. You must just trust that John le Carre is a master storyteller and he will bring us all along in a most dramatic way. It is a very contemporary plot in that the struggles over Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump with all of the ramifications of his leadership are forefront, as well as the growing power of Putin. John le Carre at age eighty-eight years old is still sounding the alarm at the fragile place that the world finds itself. Perhaps we should pay attention.

"The natural-born agent-runner is his own man. He may take his orders from London, but in the field he is the master of his fate and the fate of his agents. And when his active years are done, there aren't going to be many berths waiting for a journeyman spy in his late forties who detests deskwork and has the curriculum vitae of a middle-aged ranking diplomat who never made the grade."
Profile Image for Rajesh.
284 reviews10 followers
November 30, 2019
One of the worst JlC books I've read. More of a rant against Trump and Brexit, not that I'm for either of them, but I didn't pick up this book to be treated of a further dose of Twitter.
The tradecraft is too shallow and the end too open ended to be of any satisfaction.
83 reviews
October 25, 2019
I tend to rate books by my favourite authors a bit more harshly than usual, so a le Carré 3* is probably worth a 4* by another author. As with the rest of his oeuvres, I devoured this quickly and relished that JlC brand of intrigue bubbling under the surface. That said, I felt that this book ultimately fell short in a number of aspects.

There were moments of greatness: enjoyable tradecraft, simmerings of wider conspiracies and twisty-turny character motivations that kept you guessing. But I don't think the book built on its foundations. Some of the side-strands weren't developed (what was the point of Dom Trench?), the obvious explanation for a character's motivation was usually, disappointingly correct, and the main storyline just didn't seem to be of much consequence in the grand scheme of things. It certainly paled in comparison to the double-doubles and innermost traitors of Cold War le Carré. And then there's the ending: I had to read it twice to be sure that's all there was to it. It seems like the author hit a deadline and wrapped it up with a couple of paragraphs of 'happily-ever-after'.

As a reflection on our times, this was occasionally interesting (what does Britain's new place in the world mean for its oldest espionage alliances?) but usually descended into the obvious (Trump bad, Brexit bad, Europe good etc.).

Overall, no one can make a conference room tete-a-tete as entertaining as le Carré, and all of his usual gifts of cerebral spy writing are present here. But this book feels like a missed opportunity; somewhat rushed and not fully developed. Le Carré fans will still enjoy it, though, and he's still a national treasure.
Profile Image for Linda Bond.
429 reviews7 followers
September 20, 2019
With everything that’s going on in our world today, it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to put together a great spy story that takes it all in. But, of course, John Le Carré is up to the task. He gives us a mid-life agent who thinks he’s semi-retired, except he’s not. Instead he has to take on the task of running a slightly off-kilter enclave in London that’s about to get itself into very hot water. Nat and his wife Prue, plus energetic devotee Florence, are about to follow the angry Ed down a rabbit hole. Will they find a way out before it’s too late? This is tension at its best. Enjoy!

I met this book at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, WA
Profile Image for Julie.
1,948 reviews38 followers
May 21, 2022
John le Carré was a master at writing spy novels with wonderful character analysis and twists that truly keep me engaged. I enjoyed listening to le Carré read his own words in a measured voice, which kept me hanging on to his every word.

Favorite standout quotes:

"My work requires me to get along with people I wouldn't usually entertain in the woodshed."

"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 biggest gift you can give the young is time."

"For unbelievers, badminton is a namby-pamby version of squash for overweight men afraid of heart attacks."
Profile Image for Louise.
1,648 reviews290 followers
October 11, 2020
This is a story about the everyday work of unsung intelligence gathering agents. No guns are raised or fired. It is not set in WWII or the cold war. It has a contemporary plot.

Nat is a seasoned spy who, near retirement, returns to London to a role in running a lackluster unit of, presumably, MI6. Playing badminton (of all sports) has been helpful to his spy career. At his somewhat exclusive club he meets Ed, who is intense about his anti-Trump and anti-Brexit politics as he is about his game.

Through the story of Nat and Ed, you learn a lot about how the spy units are run. Nat knows how things work, and clues you in as he pursues leads. You learn the nuances of communication and protocol. You see him dealing with his staff, sleeper agents and the politics of his bosses. LeCarre leaves you to piece together the political pressures the supervising offices are under, but you can conclude that LeCarre's views are somewhere between those of Nat and Ed.

While the book is well paced, I got off to a slow start. I had to get used to fiction (which I don't often read) and cut through the spy and British jargon. Late in the book I merely laughed off the 12 pound bottle of champagne.

Perhaps if I had more background I’d have understood more about the trip to Prague from the initial search to the conversation from which Nat derived much more than I did. The character development is good with the exception of Florence whose back story, which I assumed would be revisited, was dropped.

I enjoyed this quick read by I’m not sure how to rate or recommend this since it is not my genre.
Profile Image for Kon R..
236 reviews102 followers
December 8, 2022
The plot doesn't really start until around the 60% mark. The first half is just Brexit and Donald Trump ramblings. In summary: yay for Brexit and boo for Trump. This point is even sprinkled into the second half for shits and giggles.

I really regretted starting this book until the plot was finally revealed and even then it was just ok. The best part of the book were the characters. They are very likable with great dialogue. Too bad the rest of the book falls flat on its literary face. The conclusion was just a semi satisfying blur.

Skip this one!
Profile Image for John Farebrother.
114 reviews27 followers
January 5, 2020
Great read, another classic Le Carre. So classic indeed that it would be refreshing to see him depart from his bog-standard (middle class) individual-against-the-establishment spy drama from time to time. At least this one has a relatively happy ending for a change. And as usual, his portrayal of the civil service as largely populated by incompetent fawning careerists who don't hesitate to shit on the few members of staff who actually do something strikes a chord with me.
Having said that, it is, as usual for the author, extremely well written. And he manages to throw in some scathing comments on the current UK government, and Brexit. The characters and scenario are gradually built up, and the reader is suddenly caught by complete surprise as the plot takes some unexpected 180 (or 360) degree turns. After the slow build-up, the action suddenly accelerates towards the end of the book.
But I can't help the feeling that his recent works lack something of the sheer scope of his heyday. Perhaps he could find a way to tie in some of those books into a larger whole, creating a world (or at least a sub-world) to rival that of the Circus.
Profile Image for Catie.
147 reviews19 followers
October 20, 2019
I love John le Carré. I love his voice. I love his people. I love his nuance. I love his wisdom. I love his subtle humour. I love his moral outrage. I love his books.
I loved this book too and was entirely gripped by it for as long as it took to read it. So, as I love all his work, does this one really rate five whole stars? Perhaps not; not for any lapse in quality, but it is a slighter book and while I understood the rather abrupt ending, it left me wanting more.
So the final star, which should perhaps be just part of a star, is there to add a bit of counterbalance to the individuals who rated it one star weeks before the book was even published.
Profile Image for Elle.
587 reviews1,315 followers
December 12, 2019
John le Carré is one of those authors who’s work I recognize by name and reputation only. I know he writes spy novels, starting with his Cold War espionage thrillers featuring George Smiley. I know he was a former British intelligence officer before switching to writing full-time. I know many of his books have been adapted into miniseries and film. I also know he’s really old. For the sake of this review I looked it up: he’s 88.

While probably not the book most le Carré fans would recommend starting out with, I think this is a good a point as any to jump in. For that reason I can’t really compare it relative to his prior catalogue, but I feel as though I got a feel for his general writing style. For me, it felt pretty dry and detached, thought that might just be how his spy novels are intentionally written. Either way, it left me pretty uninvested in nearly all the characters.

All of the young people (basically anyone under 30) are depicted as emotionally unstable and in need of constant minding. They’re literally incapable of any type of impulse control and their older, wiser contemporaries are often left shrugging their shoulders at youthful naïveté or chuckling to themselves with a ‘Kids—what can you do?’ condescension. These are adults in their twenties, but in this version of the world they are uniformly arrogant and immature. The young men get some benefit of the doubt, though, as they are ‘passionate’ where the women are ‘hysterical’. Perhaps there’s just a cluster of irrational young people in this story alone, but as writers get older I’ve noticed they find it harder to write believably young characters.

Le Carré has not lost his ability to construct a compelling protagonist, though. Nat is a British every-man-turned-spy that enjoys things like badminton, the company of his wife and scotch. He’s easy for a reader to imprint themselves on and is morally driven while being astute in his decision making. There’s really nothing negative to hang your hat on and he acts as an ethical compass for a cast of shifting and shrouded loyalties.

I can see why people like these types of books. Honestly, I did enjoy reading it, but I lost the thread quite a bit. Maybe parts were above my comprehension or maybe he could have been clearer, I don’t know. I do think that conspiracy plots are convoluted by definition, and I wasn't always sure of the function of various British intelligence operations, so that may have contributed.

All in all, probably not my genre. I’m still interested in the Smiley series if I can goad my library into purchasing Call for the Dead. I absolutely refuse to begin at book three. Popularity and ratings be damned, I am not ready for you The Spy Who Came In from the Cold! John le Carré fans will most likely enjoy this one, and everyone else can at least appreciate it. Cheers to him for still publishing at this stage in his life!

For his part, le Carré absolutely went in on Brexit and Donald Trump. Just totally devastating to be lambasted by such an icon, let alone one who has, quite literally, written the book several times on Cold War relations. Especially when both were funded and pushed by contemporary Russia. What a world
Profile Image for Alma Katsu.
Author 27 books2,809 followers
August 24, 2021
Part of the problem with LeCarre is that he does the spy novel so well that the occasional dropped stitch stands out all the more. A perfectly fine LeCarre novel is better than anyone else's very best. The reason I marked it down a little is that he is a bit breezy in places, occasionally glossing over something that could use a bit more of an explanation. Of course, that's what professionals in the intelligence business do in real life, too, which makes it ring true even more but is still slightly annoying at times. Agent Running in the Field is a sweeter book than you'd think a spy novel could be, without a giant momentous bombshell at the center, but still provides that insight into the reality of a life in espionage that LeCarre does so well.
Profile Image for Kirsten .
1,591 reviews255 followers
January 17, 2020
I really enjoyed this latest book by the master. It's very relevant and topical as it occurs in a post-Brexit and rapidly intolerant world. It accurately reflects the anger of people who were invested in the European project and the close ties of countries to keep things peaceful globally.

I also really liked going back to the world of the British Secret Service and how it works. It very much felt like comfort food for the brain. I am glad that le Carre is still putting out quality work like this.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,889 reviews428 followers
February 12, 2021
‘Agent Running in the Field” by John le Carré is a spy novel of course. John le Carré - real name David John Moore Cornwell - worked for MI5 (Security Service) and MI6 (Secret Intelligence Service) in the 1950’s and 1960’s so his novels reflect a realism about the nature of the job of being a spy. His books are almost always about spies. However, these spies are not cartoon characters like James Bond. These characters are more like the anonymous clerk or teacher who lives quietly next door. The spy characters in his novels are usually disillusioned by the politicians and spy agencies who lead the democracies his characters work for.

Nat (we never know his last name, which I think is full of meanings) works for “the Office” - Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. He marries Prudence Stoneway (another name full of meanings), a lawyer who works for a high-end legal firm. She gives up her job for his so-called diplomatic postings, which tend to be Russian cities or places under Russian influence, but after she is pregnant with their daughter Steff, she returns to London for good. Despite their separation, the marriage remains on a firm foundation even if Nat has affairs. Prue is a human rights lawyer.

Nat belongs to the Athletics Club in Battersea where he is a regular. He is a paid member, an Honorary Secretary. Why he loves his club is because he is a fanatic for badminton, and he is the club’s recognized champion, winner of the club’s award year after year.

He is having a drink relaxing by the club’s pool after winning against another club’s champion when he is approached by Ed Shannon. Ed demands to play badminton with Nat NOW. Nat puts him off, making an appointment to play a set after a couple of weeks. Everyone can tell Ed is surly and intense.

But after several months, Nat likes him.

At age 47, Nat is offered a new job managing a home-based station called the Haven which monitors the activities of Russian defectors and informants. The Haven staff have not been performing up to the mark. He decides to do it. Among the new agents training at the Haven is a woman called Florence. She impresses him.

One of their informers, supposedly a Russian sleeper agent but he has become a double agent, gets a letter activating him. Sergei Borisovich Kuznetsov contacts Nat to tell him of the secret instructions in the letter he received. His girlfriend, not, from Denmark wrote the letter. Sergei has been ordered to move to London for the summer assuming the name of Markus Schweizer and taking an apartment under that name.

What is Moscow planning?

Then Steff, who has been acting very combative, comes home with a man announcing the two are getting married.

A lot of things are going on! Nat plays the game of spies along with the weekly games of badminton with Ed when he can. Never did he imagine the two worlds would ever collide! When they do, Nat has to make a decision which will change all of their lives.

The book reflects le Carré’s political beliefs as well as his experiences as a spy. One of the things which struck me in reading this novel is how much MI5 operates exactly like the bosses in the terrible world of the novel 1984 but without the 100% oppressive surveillance and deadly threats. Maybe it’s at 60-70% intrusive surveillance when they apply themselves to a case or their employees. The Office relies on interrogations and surveillance only when they have become alarmed and suspicious, but otherwise, they are mostly hands off, relying on the requirements of their agents to report everything they are doing regularly. Has the difference between authoritarian governments and Western governments become simply a matter of the availability of policing resources? Scary.

Below I have copied Wikipedia about le Carré’s politics:

In 2017, le Carré expressed concerns over the future of liberal democracy, saying "I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism and it's contagious, it's infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There's an encouragement about". He later wrote that the end of the Cold War had left the West without a coherent ideology, in contrast to the "notion of individual freedom, of inclusiveness, of tolerance – all of that we called anti-communism" prevailing during that time.

Le Carré opposed both U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arguing that their desire to seek or maintain their countries' superpower status caused an impulse "for oligarchy, the dismissal of the truth, the contempt, actually, for the electorate and for the democratic system". Le Carré compared Trump's tendency to dismiss the media as "fake news" to the Nazi book burnings, and wrote that the United States is "heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism”.

Le Carré was an outspoken advocate of European integration and sharply criticised Brexit. Le Carré criticised Conservative politicians such as Boris Johnson (whom he referred to as a "mob orator"), Dominic Cummings, and Nigel Farage in interviews, claiming that their "task is to fire up the people with nostalgia [and] with anger". He further opined in interviews that "What really scares me about nostalgia is that it's become a political weapon. Politicians are creating a nostalgia for an England that never existed, and selling it, really, as something we could return to", noting that with "the demise of the working class we saw also the demise of an established social order, based on the stability of ancient class structures”. On the other hand, he said that in the Labour Party "they have this Leninist element and they have this huge appetite to level society.”

Speaking to The Guardian in 2019, he commented "I've always believed, though ironically it's not the way I've voted, that it's compassionate conservatism that in the end could, for example, integrate the private schooling system. If you do it from the left you will seem to be acting out of resentment; do it from the right and it looks like good social organisation." Le Carré also said that "I think my own ties to England were hugely loosened over the last few years. And it's a kind of liberation, if a sad kind.”

In Le Carré's final novel Agent Running in the Field, one of the novel's characters refers to Trump as "Putin's shithouse cleaner" who "does everything for little Vladi that little Vladi can't do for himself". The novel's narrator describes Boris Johnson as "a pig-ignorant foreign secretary". He says Russia is moving "backwards into her dark, delusional past", with Britain following a short way behind. Le Carré later said that he believed the novel's plotline, involving the U.S. and British intelligence services colluding to subvert the European Union, to be "horribly possible.

Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,210 reviews266 followers
January 2, 2020
I came to John le Carré's latest book, Agent Running in the Field (2019), as a long term admirer of his work. He's a consumate storyteller and his work transcends whichever genre pigeonhole he gets shoved into. Long term readers will already know about JLC's pro-European mindset and it quickly becomes clear just how disbelieving and despairing he is about recent political developments in Britain.

The first person narrative gives Agent Running in the Field an immediacy missing from most of his books. Needless to say JLC's passion does not impinge on another espionage masterclass. That he is publishing work of this calibre at age 88 is nothing short of remarkable. I can't think of too many writers who have maintained his level of quality for almost 60 years. In addition to an engrossing tale of tradecraft, readers will also enjoy and appreciate JLC's trademark panache, sly humour and piercing insight.

If you haven't read Agent Running in the Field yet, then what are you playing at? It is so much more than an appalled look at modern Britain, it's an enjoyable and original thriller which gets increasingly exciting.


The blurb

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.

Profile Image for Truman32.
344 reviews99 followers
November 21, 2019
When you’re a spy, not paying attention to the little things, the details and the subtle insinuations can get you killed. Of course in the old espionage game there are many other things that could get you killed as well: cyanide capsules, a razor-edged bowler hat swooshing across the room, the shark-infested booby trapped floor of Ernest Stavro Blofeld, and of course a diet high in cholesterol. But paying attention to the small clues is vital. This could also be said of John le Carré’s newest novel Agent Running in the Field. It is what is implied, the seemingly insignificant actions as well as the choice of words chosen by the characters that tell the reader what is going on. John le Carré is a writer who subscribes to the “show don’t tell” style of writing. You may be interested to know he is also a writer who subscribes to Dog Fancy, Cosmo, and Rodeo Clown Weekly.
In Agent Running in the Field we have Nat, who works for the English government handling secret agents. He is also a rabid badminton player. It is while playing at his home athletic club that Nat makes the acquaintance of Ed and soon they are playing a game every week (sometimes twice a week). Ed is a curious chap, in addition to his love of playing badminton he is consistently enraged by the current political climate including (but not limited to) such wonderful events as Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election and Brexit. Ed cannot seem to shut off his mouth and in many ways he is like that uncle of yours who is always posting provoking posts about guns on your Facebook timeline when all you really want to do is look a videos about kittens. Soon this earnest anger and desire to just do something brings Ed into Nat’s field of work. While slow on action, the story moves briskly and is always engaging. Most of this is due to le Carré’s sparse hardboiled writing style. Well into his 80’s, le Carré writes like a person with more sweaters. It is obvious that through the years his writing ability has improved in direct relation to his ability to grow thick unruly old man eyebrows. We are lucky to have this guy still churning out such great stories.
Agent Running in the Field is like a martini that is shaken and not stirred. Except instead of a martini it is a Pepsi. And because it has just been shaken foaming goodness is now spritzing all over the high-end international baccarat table. People are screaming, and bodyguards are drawing their weapons. It is that good!
Profile Image for Leftbanker.
804 reviews306 followers
December 6, 2022
I was talking with someone last evening about how much I enjoyed this novel and how amazing it was that Le Carré was still writing fine novels at his age (I believe that he was 88 when this was published). Then I was informed that he had passed away recently. I didn’t remember hearing about it back in December of 2020, or perhaps I just didn’t want to believe it.

I’ve read several of his novels but not even a fraction of the total, so it was odd that I chose this one, his very last. Now I feel compelled to read at least a half dozen more of his books. After all, I think that The Little Drummer Girl is the best spy novel I’ve ever read.

If you are a fan of Trump or Brexit, I’d caution you to stay away from this novel because he rants on and on about both of those disasters for humanity. I honestly don’t think that people who like those two piles of stupidity read books.

I almost wanted to take up the sport of badminton after reading this as he makes quite a fuss about it in this work. I played a lot of tennis, but Americans mostly think of badminton as something kids play on the lawn, and not a real sport. As I said, I almost wanted to start playing and then remembered that I’m done with game sports. My exercise comes in the form of biking and strength training, and for entertainment I’m afraid I’m all booked up playing the piano, badly, but still.

Profile Image for Fiona.
827 reviews437 followers
September 7, 2021
A fast-paced page turner starring one of John le Carre’s standard middle age, middle ranking, slightly disillusioned spies. Nat meets the younger Ed at his sports club and begins a regular game of badminton with him. He’s quite taken with the sincerity of the young man’s political convictions, even when he doesn’t share them. Meanwhile, Nat has been given a job that he considers close to being put out to pasture. Predictably that’s not how things turn out. If anything, that’s my criticism of this book. Much of it is highly predictable although the twists aren’t and the ending certainly isn’t. In fact, I’m left unsatisfactorily wondering what the ramifications of the ending are.
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