I'm not sure quite why I've never read a book by John le Carre but there you have it, to my certain memory I hadn't until this last week and it was the arrival of A Most Wanted Man published by Hodder that tempted me.
I think I probably had an idea these were Boy's Own stories and I wouldn't find them that interesting, or perhaps I thought the spyworld might be a bit too complicated for me. Prejudices that probably go back years, and are completely unfounded given that like most people I can cope with a James Bond film and like most readers get my head round most reading subjects if I try hard enough.
Actually perhaps I did struggle a bit with the recent Guardian supplement Quantum Physics for Dummies, in fact I was drowning, but spying can't be as tricky as that?
Well it's complex and intelligent when John le Carre indulges and absolutely no good taking your eye off the hidden camera if you want to keep up, but keep up I did and I feel quite pleased with myself which always means there's a terrible come-uppance approaching.
This is up-to-the-minute plotting, as the Goodies, the emaciated Chechen dissident, the altrusitic German civil rights lawyer and the yearning-to-be-honourable banker join forces unwittingly against the Baddies which is basically almost everyone else.
You see I told you I'd grasped it all.
This is spying a la 21st century though I was pleased to note a good, old-fashioned fountain pen listening device tucked in a pocket; post 9/11 War on Terror espionage where it would seem all the old rules of spying have changed, the goalposts of chivalry and gentlemanly honour have suffered a seismic shift and now it really is Trust No One time.
Vast amounts of old spy money have been cleverly laundered through Brue Freres Bank under a dazzling little ruse known as the Lipizzaner accounts. Lipizzaner horses start life as black foals but slowly become that pristine Persil white as does this money by the time Brue Freres have put it through at 90 degs and a 1300 spin. Now I'm no expert on the laundering of money but if that's an original le Carre concept, which I suspect it is, it seemed to me of the highest order and very original.
So when an illegitimate heir to a small fortune appears in Germany to claim his Lipizzaner inheritance from the bank let the plotting and scheming begin. Duplicitous attempts to steer the money into the wrong hands and then catch them all red-handed as it were (are you keeping up?) spending the readies are bound to cause mayhem, but John le Carre keeps a tight rein on the Lipizzaner (sorry, couldn't resist) plot and I loved it.
There's dupe and counter-dupe and possibly some dupe of the counter-dupe and I'm just not going to tell you which country butts in and struts right on in over everyone else's best-laid plans because actually they all have a go, but of course there will only be one winner or could they all be losers?
But that aside John le Carre's writing is an absolute masterclass not only in plotting intrigue but also in how to create vividly believable, visible characters with an enviable economy of words, right there on the page before your very eyes.
How about this one, Goodie or Baddie?
'with his schoolboy forelock bouncing as he waddled towards them, fleshy hands outstretched and slippy eyes searching beyond them...'
or this one
'He was small and trim...his light brown hair was cropped army-style short. He was softly, thoughtfully spoken and had an engaging courtesy...he radiated a quiet self-assurance that told you he was nobody's man.'
or this one
'he was a scruffy, explosive mongrel of a man, stocky in the shoulders and frequently with ash on the lapels of his jacket...'
Actually, don't be fooled, John le Carre isn't that daft, it's not always easy to tell and even more difficult to predict the outcomes. Not being a Spook expert I was guessing until the very last page of what has been a surprising and heartily enjoyable off-the-beaten-track read for me, and though reviews suggest this might not be John le Carre's best book it's been a great starter for ten and I might even feel bold enough to read a few more now I'm getting the hang of it.