Posted by: Corri van de Stege | April 14, 2013

John le Carre – The Night Manager and A delicate Truth

The Night Manager

It’s 1991, the wall has come down; Smiley has retired, the Cold War is over; there is no longer the need for deep undercover, for the kind of spy craft that was required in the undercover world of east against west, of Smiley against Karla, western democracy against soviet style dictatorship.

I still miss Smiley and the Circle, I loved the The Spy who came in from the Cold, I adored Smileys People, grew up with Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, read and reread The Honourable Schoolboy, and watched all of the tv series and the films.
The standard for spy fiction in my mind was set by Le Carre and I almost regretted that when the wall came down that meant the end of new spy stories based on the east-west cold war relationship.
I got over it though, there is so much to read, there are so many great writers and, fortunately, Le Carre did not stop being an excellent writer and I greatly enjoyed reading amongst others The Constant Gardener, as well as seeing that film too (which came out in 2005 I think)..
Somehow I missed The Night Manager, his first novel set in a post-cold-war world,  which deals with drugs and weapon smuggling, and I have now made good.  I intend to finish it before his very new book, A Delicate Truth, comes out on 25th April.  Just in time for me to be able to download it before I go on my trip to Singapore (again).  I very much look forward to that: both to my trip and to reading the book!

It took a bit of effort to try to understand what is going on in the first few chapters of The Night Manager, so many characters are introduced and unless you keep a constant tab on names and on who is friend and who is foe, it is easy to get lost.   Le Carre has always been good at innuendo, at representing and developing characters through the way they speak and what they talk about, but you need to give these conversations your full attention.   Close attention pays off however and soon we being to move are inside the world of Jonathan Pine, who we meet as the night manager in a luxury hotel in Zürich.  Then there is the rich Mr Roper who has shady friends and who Jonathan holds (indirectly) responsible for the death of Sophie, brutally murdered.   That is only the very beginning however,and soon Jonathan decides to give up the night job and to do something, he has his connections to The Agency in England and he wants a kind of revenge – he becomes embroiled in the fight against arms and drug dealers.

Sophie had ‘belonged’ to Freddie Hamid, one of the Hamid brothers, who ‘between them owned a lot of Cairo’.  This is the world of the rich of people with a lot of money and it is not always clear how they came by their wealth.  Roper is very wealthy and someone like Leonard Burr in the London-based intelligence community does not like these people.  Burr’s character is drawn out nicely, by what he thinks about Thatcherism, and people who have suddenly become very rich.  This is an example of why I think Le Carre is such a great writer, his ability to draw out in one sentence the way the world has changed from cold-war spy craft to a different world:
Burr has met villains before, before Roper ‘

‘there had been others…. In the dying years of the Cold War, before the new agency was a twinkle in Goodhew’s eye, when Burr was already dreaming of the post Thatcher Jerusalem and even his most honourable colleagues in Pure Intelligence were casting about for other people’s enemies and jobs, there were few insiders who did not remember Burr’s vendettas against such renowned illegals of the eighties as the grey-suited billionaire ‘scrap metal dealer, Tyler, who flew standby, or the monosyllabic ‘accountant’, Lorimer, who made all his calls from public pay phones, or the odious Sir Anthony Joyston Bradshaw, gentleman and occasional satrap of Darker’s so-called Procurement Studies Group, who ran a vast estate on the fringes of Newbury, and rode hounds with his butler mounted at his side equipped with stirrup cup and foie- gras sandwiches.’

None of these were in the league of RO Roper: Class, privilege, everything Burr loathed had been handed to Roper on a salver.  

Newspapers have started their reviews of the A Delicate Truth, for example here’s the link to the review in the Guardian.  There are more links at the end of this post.

It is interesting to read that Le Carre says that he never actually was a spy himself: but rather an MI5 officer happened to be based in Berlin, where he started writing about eastern Europe and spies, his ambition was to be a novelist.  The fact that he was given the green light to publish ‘The Spy who Came in from the Cold’ should give credence to his having made it all up, he would never otherwise have been allowed to publish it.  Nevertheless many of his readers (and journalists) have steadfastly assumed that he was in reality a spy who opened the books on what really happened  – vide: John le Carre: I was a secret even to myself


 I recommend all of Le Carre’s books


  1. Note: the formatting of this post has gone haywire. Apologies for the closed cropped text!

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