Tag: John le Carré

Series of the Year: The Night Manager

Thursday, 22 December, 2016 0 Comments

In an age of sleeplessness and over-extended streamed series, The Night Manager manages to get in and out in six, 90-minute episodes. That’s a serious plus for the time constrained. This co-production by the BBC and AMC is a lavish update of a 1993 John Le Carré novel that feels a bit like James Bond meets Tom Ripley. In fact, Hugh Laurie meets Tom Hiddleston in the most picture-postcard parts of Egypt, Britain, Switzerland, Morocco, Spain and Turkey.

Laurie plays arms dealer Richard Roper, whose ability to fly beneath the radar has frustrated British intelligence agent Angela Burr (Olivia Coleman) for more than a decade. She’s obsessed with catching this Big Fish and her angler turns out to be Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine, the hotel night manager of the title.

Director Susanne Bier pans between the treacherous, charming Laurie and Hiddleston, a former soldier turned stylish night manager at upscale hotels. Elizabeth Debicki is the elegant American arm candy for Laurie’s character and her attraction to the attractive Hiddleston gives the storyline a needed touch of animality. Typically le Carré, the plot features elaborate conspiracies at almost every turn. Add in lots of drinking and you’ve got what’s needed to make The Night Manager our Series of the Year.

The Night Manager

“Promise to build a chap a house, he won’t believe you. Threaten to burn his place down, he’ll do what you tell him. Fact of life.” — Richard Roper, The Night Manager


A single candle can defy the darkness

Friday, 29 July, 2016 1 Comment

Today, we remember, with sadness and joy, the birthday of Catherine O’Donnell-Fitzgerald (29 July 1928 – 6 September 2015). Her generosity, wit and hospitality were legendary and her legacy of love is a permanent reminder that some families are blessed by goodness and some are not. It is true that when the sun has set, no candle can replace it, but it is equally true that a single candle can defy the darkness.

Blowing the candles out

“If you don’t grieve for the dead, how can you mourn for the living?” — John le Carré, Smiley’s People


A tremor of intent in Crimea

Monday, 24 March, 2014 1 Comment

The writer Anthony Burgess noticed his hand shaking one hungover morning in 1965. “That”, his wife said to him, “is a tremor of intent”. Thereupon, Burgess conceived an eschatological spy novel titled Tremor of Intent, which would offer an alternative to the humourless fiction of John le Carré and the jingoistic fantasy of Ian Fleming. By terming it an eschatological thriller, Burgess was expressing his view of the Cold War as the “ultimate conflict” for which Good and Evil were, he felt, inadequate terms.

Tremor of Intent Synopsis: The ageing, amoral MI6 Agent Denis Hillier, posing as a typewriter technician, journeys to Crimea aboard the cruise ship Polyolbion on a mission to infiltrate a convention of Soviet scientists and return to Britain his school friend Roper, who has defected to the Evil Empire. En route, he encounters the sexually curious sixteen-year-old Clara Walters, the obsequious steward Wriste and the sexually experienced Miss Devi, secretary to the sinister epicure Theodorescu. All of this allows the genius creator of A Clockwork Orange to describe hilariously graphic scenes involving food, drink, sex, politics, philosophy, history, religion, treason and murder. When Hillier is forced to spend three days in the seedy Babi Humayun (Sublime Portal) hotel overlooking the Bosphorus, Burgess hits his musical stride. Snippet:

“Istanbul disturbed him with its seven hills, as though Rome had tried to build herself on another planet. The names of architects and sultans rang in his mind in dull Byzantine gold — Anthemius, Isidorus, Achmet, Bajazet, Solyman the Magnificent. The emperors shrilled from a far past like desolate birds — Theodosius, Justinian, Constantine himself. His head raged with mosques. The city, in cruel damp heat, smelt of wool and hides and skins. Old filth and rusty iron, proud exports, clattered and thumped aboard under Galata’s lighthouse. Ships, gulls, sea-light. Bazaars, beggars, skinny children, charcoal fires, skewered innards smoking, the heavy tobacco reek, fat men in flannel double-breasteds, fed on fat.”

In this age of Putin and Snowden, it is our misfortune that there’s no Anthony Burgess around to novelize the comic aspects of their Cold War II symbiosis.


An American Spy

Tuesday, 18 June, 2013 0 Comments

With all this talk of the NSA and its activities, espionage has stormed back onto the front pages. Perfect time to publish a spy novel set in China, the USA and Germany, one should think, and cometh the hour, cometh the man in the form of Olen Steinhauer. That surname suggests another Nordic star but Steinhauer was born in Baltimore and attended the University of Texas, Austin. He now lives in Budapest and he’s bidding to be the new John le Carré. Given the quality of An American Spy, he’s got a great hand of cards.

An American Spy And better again, Steinhauer has got a great sense of the Zeitgeist because he’s peopled An American Spy with characters such as Comrade Colonel Xin Zhu, the corpulent head of the Expedition Agency within Beijing’s Sixth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security. He’s had 33 CIA agents killed across the world in a breathtaking act of liquidation, but he’s got to watch his back because Wu Liang and his associate, Yang Qing-Nian, of the Supervision and Liaison Committee, a branch of the Central Committee’s Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, are not fans. Xin Zhu speaks:

“It wasn’t just revenge, you know. Everyone thinks that’s what it was — the committee, you, probably even the Americans. Revenge factored into it, but it was also a practical decision. That’s something I’ll have to explain on Monday morning. By eradicating one of their secret departments, we have sent a serious message to the Americans, the same message we want to send with the Olympic Games. That we are the primary force in the world. We are a nation that has suffered long enough — that’s the past. The present is this: We are a superpower of unfathomable riches, and we will not stand for interference, particularly from a country on the other side of the planet that still refers to itself as the world’s only superpower.”

Yes, it’s only fiction but le Carré’s fiction was infused with fact and there’s a lot in An American Spy to suggest that Steinhauer intimately understands the nexus of global strategy and dirty deeds, too. His portrayal of Zhu is measured and menacing and the useful idiots who marched in Hong Kong at the weekend in solidarity with Edward Snowden would do will to read An American Spy. There are no paradises upon this earth.