Featured Review: ‘Agent Running in the Field’ by John le Carré

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Agent running in the fieldIn his first spy thriller set during the Trump era, iconic spy novelist John le Carré delivers another page-turner, though maybe not quite to the level his readers have come to expect. 

After a long career in the field, twenty-five-year MI6 veteran Nat is none too thrilled about the possibility of being pulled from the job that he loves. Though his career has kept him from his family 0ver the years—including his wife, Prue, a lawyer, and their children—Nat has loved his day-to-day work life, much of which has been spent focusing on Russia in the name of national security. 

But now, as he nears the age of fifty, Nat finds himself being called into headquarters—a summons he suspects will play out with him receiving his walking papers. Instead, he’s offered a new position. Though he’ll have to exit the field, Nat is offered the chance to run the Haven, a London-based intelligence substation that’s known to be a mess. Unsure if he’s supposed to actually fix the problems that be at Haven or just help run it into the ground, Nat accepts the new position and gets to work.

Straightaway, the typically uneventful office is buzzing with drama, including one of Nat’s top aids quitting due to the cancelation of a project she’d been working on, followed by one of MI6’s top Russian assets being contacted by a former colleague—a woman who, given the circumstances, cannot be trusted. And then there’s Ed—a fiery young researcher who plays badminton with Nat at their mutual country club—who, when he isn’t scratching his competitive itch, can normally be found at the pub drinking pints and spewing his take on current world events such as Brexit, Trump, and the rise of neo-Nazism in America. 

Eventually, as threads begin to merge, Nat finds himself being dragged down a dangerous pathway—and to figure out what, exactly, is going on, he realizes that he might have to step back into his former life one last time . . .

It’s no secret that John le Carré is one of the greatest writers the genre has ever known. That said, whereas his last novel, A Legacy of Spies, earned rave reviews and played somewhat on readers’ nostalgia after bringing back iconic characters from earlier books, his latest falls just short as the author misses his mark ever so slightly. As always, the writing is top-notch, and the plotting is mostly spectacular, with at least one major twist that lands solidly—but then brings more questions than answers.

And that’s sort of the problem with this book. There’s a lot done right, that is really good, until it isn’t. Like the abrupt ending. Or the paper-thin characters. Maybe not Nat himself, but others sure are flat, including his wife, who goes from supportive to somewhat irritated or annoyed, but is ultimately too caught up in her own career as an attorney to take a vested interest in what Nat is doing. Likewise, it’s fascinating to see le Carré’s take on the Trump era, et cetera, but, certainly, there are a large number of people who won’t agree with the political leanings of this book, which could result in fewer people actually enjoying the story—which, for the most part, is really good. 

Certainly not one of his best outings, but Agent Running in the Field flashes some of the qualities that have made John le Carré one of the most successful spy novelists in the history of the genre, and fans of his work will likely enjoy seeing him in action again.

Book Details

Author: John le Carre
Pages: 288 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1984878875
Publisher: Viking
Release Date: October 22, 2019
Book Spy Rating: 7.5/10

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Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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