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4.0 Stars

Kind of an odd Le Carre book. The first half of the book is great, and has a weird similarity to one of my favorite Iris Murdoch novels, The Black Prince. There is a dried up, risk-averse and retired Treasury agent (ok, in this book it is just his cover, but he's still retired), there is his lifelong friend/rival who is much more outgoing and dicey, there is the wife and their shared history, and then there is the much, much younger woman that our Treasury agent has fallen in love with. It even plays around with the same themes of competing head-canons, and of their collisions and attempted impositions on other people. There are a few other similarities in how their relations unfold, but I don't want to spoil too much. This first half isn't much of a spy novel at all, and is mostly just configurations of 2-4 people in a room talking or interrogating, with their unfolding histories and relations and psyches. There is some spy/law enforcement stuff going on, but it's much more tangential than in a typical Le Carre novel. There are also several delightful scenes of English gentlemen becoming shocked and indignant when someone tries to bring morality into a discussion of foreign policy. I actually expected the book to end halfway through, simply because that is where the Murdoch novel ended.

And that brings us to the second half of the story, which was kind of meh? Usually I am right on board with Le Carre and his views, but here I really had to side with the English gentlemen. The second half becomes more of a spy novel, as our Treasury agent sets out on a somewhat quixotic quest. I didn't really buy the motivation for starting the quest, or for continuing the quest, or even that the quest was a good thing. Or to put it another way, the usual Le Carre story involves people being caught up in the machinery of patriotism/national security, and either being ground up by it in one way or another, or managing to escape from it (sometimes by leaving a limb behind). In this novel I feel like the the protagonist manages to break free, but then he turns around and plunges himself back into a different and even more arbitrary set of machinery. Anyway, it was a very frustrating denoument, as I really wanted better things for a protagonist that in many ways I quite liked.