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Agent Running in the Field (2019)

by John le Carré

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9634217,774 (3.85)36
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. Agent Running in the Field is a chilling portrait of our time, now heartbreaking, now darkly humorous, told to us with unflagging tension by the greatest chronicler of our age.… (more)
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English (38)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
slow and bland. There was no tension and the closer I got to the end the more I realized there was not going to be a climatic finish and I was right. ( )
  zinkoff | May 18, 2022 |
I stuck with this book, although for much of it I wasn't sure where it was going. Nat, a spy, returns to England and is apparently sent to The Haven as a last chance. We met Ed his Monday night badminton opponent. Ed rants about Brexit and other matters after the game. Nat seems to enjoy these sessions but he is hard to read. Eventually he is shown as a decent guy who tries to do the right thing. There were clues that this is how he would react but the scale of it took me by surprise. Plenty of interest. ( )
  CarolKub | Sep 18, 2021 |
Nat, an agent in a British spy service, is nearing 50 and believes his agency plans to force him into retirement. No reason is given aside from his desire to avoid administrative duties and continue running agents. Instead, he is assigned to head a moribund agency in central London tasked with keeping tabs on Russian Oligarchs. Without a plausible rationale, this setup strikes me as the implausible creation of a lazy writer.

LeCarré focuses on character development for the first hundred pages and, for the most part, ignores plot development. His emphasis results in clichéd absolutes. Prue, Nat’s wife, is a saintly, conscientious, prosocial lawyer. Florence, a recruit, is viewed by Nat as having the potential to be “stellar.” LeCarré “tells” readers this, but they never see Prue do anything saintly nor Florence do anything stellar. Instead, Florence is “shown” to be immature and impulsive. She develops a plan to monitor an oligarch but throws a temper tantrum and resigns from the agency when her proposal is not approved. Then that evening, she meets Ed, a socially unpolished bumpkin, falls in love over dinner, and marries him.

LeCarré enumerates the positive qualities of characters likes in great detail but skewers the people and programs he dislikes with one-line insults. For some, this may be the most enjoyable aspect of the book. Brexit is an unmitigated clusterfuck. Boris Johnson is pig ignorant. Trump is Putin’s shithouse cleaner. He speaks as ordered while Putin observes with his proud jailer’s smile. Trump and Brexit fanatics are racist and xenophobic. The United States is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism.

I suppose a story that doesn’t make much sense deserves an ending that doesn’t make sense, and LeCarré delivers. The fate of Florence and Ed reminds me of the unimaginative solutions in John Grisham’s early works. Grisham stranded his protagonists on tropical islands or ships that will meander aimlessly. Florence and Ed would be dead within two months if any spy agency cared enough to search for them.
Although occasionally titillating, Agent Running in the Field is mostly dull nonsense. ( )
  Tatoosh | Sep 4, 2021 |
Average le Carre, short and lacking the political commentary and technical details that make his best works so enjoyable. It's not a bad book by any means, but it's not one of his best. It feels lacking in depth, much more like a book early in a writer's career that has been heavily edited to reduce page count.

Nat has had a short career running agents abroad and now in his mid-40s has been brought home, and feeling a little out of sorts. He plays badminton as relief, and is enthused when a new younger member challenges him. Meanwhile one of the local former double-agents now re-homed in London brings word that there's a high level Russian meet going to happen. Most of the first half is Nat trying to convince various people that this is significant and should be monitored.

The motivation for the various actors is given as despair over how Brexit has turned out and the rise and nationalism Trump et al. But these are always given as speeches and don't actually influence anything. The initial plot of an investigation into a russian Oligarch potentially suffering from US influence fizzles out unresolved and doesn't feature in the later parts, which is a shame as there was time and space to do so. ( )
  reading_fox | Aug 17, 2021 |
Slow payoff but fairly worth the revelation. It takes a master craftsman to make the reader wait the first two-thirds of the story. ( )
  Mithril | Jul 19, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
le Carré, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gómez Ibáñez, BenitoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levinsen, JakobTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taylor, MattCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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“It is my considered opinion that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the US is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none.”

"A minority Tory cabinet of tenth-raters. A pig-ignorant foreign secretary who I’m supposed to be serving. Labour no better. The sheer bloody lunacy of Brexit."
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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. Agent Running in the Field is a chilling portrait of our time, now heartbreaking, now darkly humorous, told to us with unflagging tension by the greatest chronicler of our age.

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Haiku summary
Ed, Nat sont badistes
Ed donne des secrets aux Russes
Il les croit allemands
(Tiercelin)

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