We all, lovers of John Le Carre's spy thrillers thought that the collapse of the Soviet empire, end of cold-war, and emergence of a unipolar world, will make writers like Lecarre unemployed, and deprive us of any more interesting books. Not so. Great, creative writers like Lecarre, can never be unemployed, can never let down their fans.
This is one of most fascinating books that I have ever read. It's not a typical Lecarre, but all the specialties of Lecarre's writing skills; superb detailing, suspense and power of drama, study of treachery and trust, strange phenomenon & bond of relationships that defy any definition, gripping storyline, seamless narration, are all there, in much better form than ever.
Tim Cranmer, a spymaster with British secret service, had recruited and trained Larry, a renegade political thinker as a double agent. Tim ran Larry for over 20 years, and developed a very close, personal relationship which was much more than a spy and a master.
Tim, now retired, lives in countryside growing vine. A divorcee has befriended Emma, a musician half his age, who often lives with him. Larry too is now out of the "service", and is a teacher at a university. Larry keeps visiting Tim for old time's sake. The friendship continues.
One fine day, Larry is missing, and so is Emma. Police investigators have stumbled across many imponderables and inklings of something big and sinister. Tim is interrogated and harassed by the Police. Tim seeks help from his former employers. The "office" not only disowns him totally; rather they too start an investigation of their own. Tim is all alone, on the run, his love life ruined, Emma seems to have dumped him, his close confidante is missing, his old friends and colleagues have not only ditched him, but have also turned against. Tim is in a mess.
However, using his own skills and resources, Tim embarks on a mission to unravel the truth. The pursuit takes him to Europe, and all over Russian provinces, right behind the war lines. What does he find? What does he do thereafter? The story and the suspense are too good to be disclosed.
Entire story is in in first person, as experienced and narrated by Tim, the lead character. The three main characters, the way they develop, and the way they have been etched and analysed, is superb.
The narration is superb. Suddenly it jumps from the present to the past, to a future possibility, and back to the present again...is just like the way, a human mind, especially a disturbed one under stress will function under the circumstances.
In process of the story, Lecarre with his phenomenal research tells us all about the history of various ethnic minorities in the CIS, and exposes us to the views and lives of various ethnic minorities and their problems. The mighty USSR as long as it held up, had never let the world know about any of these. We in India thought that only we have so many ethnic groups and minorities, and a variety of diversity! CIS has as many.
I finished the book in one session stretching 6-8 hours. It was so un-put-downable!
Hats off to Lecarre, you are one of the finest writers this century has produced.