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Agent Running in the Field Reviews

Agent Running in the Field by John le Carre

Agent Running in the Field

John le Carre

3.81 out of 5

11 reviews

Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 17 Oct 2019
ISBN: 9780241401231

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.

  • The TimesBook of the Year
4 stars out of 5
Robbie Millen
19 Oct 2019

"His 25th novel has everything you want from a Le Carré tale"

Le Carré’s 25th novel is a fine piece of storytelling. It is a neat, compact, slow-burning tale with just the right amount of twisting and turning and misdirection. For Le Carré fans, it has the world-weary atmosphere that make his thrillers so evocative, brought to life in the odd telling detail, such as the SIS bureaucracy refusing to expense an “unnecessary” taxi ride in Prague.

Reviews

3 stars out of 5
8 Nov 2019

"A tale of Russian intrigue in Britain’s mess"

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Le Carré was apparently left without a clear subject: the USSR had evaporated, and with it the Cold War antagonisms that informed his spy fiction. Nevertheless he kept a hawk-eye on the new Russian oligarchs and their connections with private arms contractors and international fraudsters of one stripe or another. A bravura performance, Agent Running in the Field continues his exploration of corruption in the City of London and the money being pumped into it from Putin’s Moscow. At the age of eighty-eight, the author has lost little of his gift for creating Big Brother atmospherics and pages of taut dialogue.

4 stars out of 5
4 Nov 2019

"We live in such dark times, it suggests, that disillusioned agnosticism can no longer keep us safe"

In le Carré at his best, a zero-sum nihilism prevails. A traitor may be unmasked, as in the final pages of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, but by then we are so deeply mired in betrayal that his motives seem indistinguishable from anyone else’s. In the end, as honour and ideology hang in tatters, the defence of the realm depends not on true believers but on those whose illusions have deserted them. All of this seems worth rehearsing in the light of a new novel that seems, for the 88-year-old le Carré, to attempt a final reckoning with the fastidious equivocation that has defined his career.

5 stars out of 5
26 Oct 2019

"...a rich, beautifully written book studded with surprises"

Agent Running in the Field — an intentionally ambiguous title, no doubt — is le Carré’s 25th novel. The first and most important thing to say is that it’s a cracker. There was a whiff of weariness about his previous book, A Legacy of Spies, but here he writes as a man refreshed. Perhaps it’s an unexpected Brexit dividend... Many of Le Carré’s novels explore the nature of loyalty, but here he gives it a different twist. The result is a rich, beautifully written book studded with surprises. Narrative is a black art, and Le Carré is its grandmaster.

5 stars out of 5
Allan Massie
23 Oct 2019

"Well on in his ninth decade, his intellectual and emotional energy is undiminished"

This is Le Carré’s 26th novel and, of course, it has long been obvious that it is absurd to regard him as a genre novelist. He is indeed more serious than many much admired literary novelists, as well as being more entertaining... Le Carré has always been such a writer. Well on in his ninth decade, his intellectual and emotional energy is undiminished... It is natural now that his masterpieces are behind him, but this is a very good, engaging and enjoyable novel, his best, I should say, since A Most Wanted Man. 

2 stars out of 5
Adam LeBor
18 Oct 2019

"in part an undisguised Remainer screed, an anguished howl of Hampstead (where le Carré has a house) angst and fury"

Before the book’s release, its publisher promised that it would “confront the division and rage at the heart of our modern world”. Instead the book exacerbates it. Agent Running in the Field is in part an undisguised Remainer screed, an anguished howl of Hampstead (where le Carré has a house) angst and fury. Le Carré uses Ed to deliver chunks of clunky, didactic dialogue... Le Carré is rightly acclaimed as one of our finest novelists. His cold war series, featuring the spymaster George Smiley, is also a subtle, engrossing chronicle of postwar Britain and its diminishing international role. But in the canon of a great writer, Agent Running in the Field is a minor work.

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
Steven Poole
17 Oct 2019

"a very classy entertainment about political ideals and deception"

At 288 pages, Agent Running in the Field is a miniature compared with le Carré’s great cold war novels, and it lacks the ruthless clockwork precision of, say, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. But it is a very classy entertainment about political ideals and deception. There is a terrific scene set in a park, in particular, in which we gradually realise that all the bystanders are part of a huge team of “watchers” marshalled by the spies to observe a secret conversation. The author leaves the reader to draw the disturbing inference that this – in the age of ambient corporate and state surveillance by ubiquitous technology – is simply the way we all live now.

5 stars out of 5
Geoffrey Wansell
17 Oct 2019

"Subtle, wry and seamless, it’s an utter joy, from first page to last."

Now in his late 80s, le Carre demonstrates once again his sublime elegance as a writer, and his delicate touch when portraying human failings in the shadowy world of espionage. Nat is the child of an impecunious major in the Scots Guards and an insignificant member of Russian nobility...He is a perfect, nuanced le Carre character: world-weary, yet still with a glint in his eye.... Subtle, wry and seamless, it’s an utter joy, from first page to last.

4 stars out of 5
17 Oct 2019

"le Carré has developed into an immensely stylised writer, the creator of his own fictional world. At this point in his career, we can only be grateful for another chance to join him there"

Agent Running in the Field is as ingeniously structured as any of le Carré’s fiction, skilfully misdirecting the reader for much of the time. True, the language, though charming and fluent, feels like a burnished antique, never that of man in his forties now, belonging rather to an earlier era. 

As always, there’s considerable genre-suitable sentimentality, about the young, about women, especially. But then le Carré has developed into an immensely stylised writer, the creator of his own fictional world. At this point in his career, we can only be grateful for another chance to join him there. 

4 stars out of 5
Jake Kerridge
13 Oct 2019

"Few writers are so well able to convey strength and self-belief, with the result that the reader is forced to accept everything he says, sometimes against one’s better judgement."

There is nothing so mimsily oblique about [Le Carre's] new novel, thankfully, which tackles Brexit head-on and, unlike [A legacy of Spies], is set during a specific, identifiable period: the run-up to President Trump’s first visit to the UK, in 2018... As always, it is a sheer pleasure to read le Carré’s muscular prose. Few writers are so well able to convey strength and self-belief, with the result that the reader is forced to accept everything he says, sometimes against one’s better judgment... What’s most remarkable is the way in which le Carré can still produce set-pieces of a type that he more or less invented 50 years ago and, at the age of 87, do them better than his scores of imitators.

3 stars out of 5
13 Oct 2019

"The 87-year-old writer still thrills in this tale of Brexit and a badminton-loving spy"

But once le Carré’s game is in full swing, he is close to unbeatable. Agent Running in the Field is a perfectly tight thriller, somehow managing to strip everything back to the essential plot without its direction ever becoming predictable. And though the prose is sometimes sacrificed to pace, there are frequent reminders of le Carré’s deft ability to conjure atmosphere from fleeting description: a hushed dawn in Primrose Hill, for example, where a church bell tolls, “but only timidly”.