It must be tough to follow George Smiley as a character. As much as Smiley helped define Le Carré in his early years, for me Alex Guinness in the 1979 BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, certainly defined Smiley. I’ve often wondered how much of Le Carré’s last novel with a major Smiley part, Smiley’s People, was influenced by Guinness’s portrayal of Smiley. (Smiley’s People was also published in 1979). Since those heady days, I have always found subsequent Le Carré’s novels enjoyable, but never reaching the same peak. Even the Night Manager I would have rated only a 3 ½ star out of 5 as a book – whereas the TV series with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston et al was definitely a 5 star plus. Perhaps if Le Carré wrote a sequel to the Night Manager now, his writing would be influenced by the screen depictions of the characters - and it would be a better book as a result.
I have now read this latest book, Agent Running in the Field, and have to confess to being surprised. In a pleasant way, that is. Expecting this to be another 3 star out of 5, I would rate this much higher. It is an interesting plot, it has a nice – totally credible – plot twist, and the two main characters, Nat and Ed, seem to sit comfortably in the contemporary world of modern-day spydom. They are not grand characters in the Smiley mould, and they lack the power of that on-screen characterisation has given to the stars of the Night Manager. As it’s tough to review a book like this without given spoilers – for now, all I will say, however, is that I enjoyed this book and would recommend it.
Le Carré once said that if his books were going off the boil, his friends should encourage him to stop writing. In recent times, I had been hoping that they might have been having a quiet word. After this book, I think he should carry on writing!