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Agent Running in the Field: A Novel (2019)

by John le Carré

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7301922,823 (3.83)24
"A new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author John le Carré 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 (30)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
This audio book comes with an impressive list of credentials, not the least that it is read by the author.

Nat is fully expecting to be retired but management has other ideas. There is a Russian agent, a sleeper, in London whom the service is fully expecting to be activated any time soon, and he becomes Nat's responsibility. Nat decides he will hand him over to "young" Florence, one of his brightest agent-runners. Meanwhile someone turns up at the Badminton club who wants to play Nat, the club champion despite his age. Ed wants to play him now, without having to go through the "ladder" system. Ed is taciturn most of the time but it is clear he has strong political views, and is keen to do something about them. He has no idea that Nat is a spy.

And then things begin to go a bit pear-shaped when Florence storms out, and rumours abound of a new double agent in London.

An interesting story with several puzzles to solve. Le Carre does an impressive job as narrator, particularly considering his age when he produced it. He died in 2020 at the age of 89. ( )
  smik | Mar 5, 2021 |
Comment: Started listening to this and found the first few chapters pleasant and promising, though with little action. John Le Carre, doing his own narration, has a great voice but sounds much older than I imagine the character to be. Fell asleep and didn't have it on the timer, so next thing I know I'm on the final chapter, so I've missed most of it. But will probably revisit it. ( )
  Okies | Feb 18, 2021 |
Bitter Brexit Blues
Review of the Penguin Books Canada paperback edition (August 2020) of the original Viking hardcover (October 2019)

Agent Running in the Field was John le Carré's final novel as of this writing as I have yet to hear that there will be anything released posthumously. Carré then goes out with a final story of deception and betrayal, this time inspired by his rage with Brexit and Trump's seeming alliance or at least non-aggression pact with Putin's Russia. I was also somewhat relieved that this was as strong a novel as it was, after being bitterly disappointed and even enraged by what seemed like Carré forgetting and/or contradicting key elements of his own iconic The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963) in his final George Smiley/Circus novel A Legacy of Spies (2017).

The story starts quite modestly with veteran British Secret Intelligence Service field agent runner Nat back at head office in London and biding his time before what he expects his being made redundant. During that time he makes friends with a fellow badminton player at his health club. These two story lines are cleverly wound together into what becomes quite a surprising conspiracy by the end. The coincidences that ensue and the rather quick resolution keep it out of 5-star territory, but the false flag elements were well done.

If the Carré estate considers continuation series licensing with another author, there is a hint here that there is the possibility of a future series vs. a Russian spy master à la the classic Hunt for Karla trilogy.

I read Agent Running in the Field due to the recent passing of novelist John le Carré (penname of David Cornwell) (October 19, 1931 – December 12, 2020). His death brought back memories of my first readings of his Cold War novels in the 1970s. Those were probably the first books of somewhat 'serious' writing that I had ever read, after developing an early love of reading with detective and science fiction novels in my teenage years. In addition to my re-reads of his early novels, I'm going to read several of his later works which I did not read at the time of release.

Trivia
I've tagged this book with a new Estonia tie-in shelf, as Nat's final field position with MI6 prior to his return to the Office and the Haven was in Tallinn, Estonia, which he occasionally refers to. I'll have to go through my earlier books, but I'm pretty sure there are a few dozen (non-Estonian writers) that I could add to that shelf. ( )
  alanteder | Feb 17, 2021 |
Classic late-stage Le Carre. We are always a few steps behind the characters, either in what they know (and progressively reveal) or what they feel and believe (and while they may not state it, their actions are in support of those beliefs). Enough twists, where you know something is up but you don't know what and even when it's revealed it isn't at all what you thought. With the usual humanism and bad upbringings and clods with too much power and the criticism of the injustice of the world order. ( )
  steveportigal | Dec 31, 2020 |
I came to this novel in the weeks immediately after Le Carre’s death and with the vague knowledge that it hadn’t been overly well-received by critics in the papers and journals I read. My impression, initially, was that the criticism of the book was justified. During the first fifty-pages or so, the novel seemed unsure of its self. The narrative voice did not ring quite true and the supporting cast of secondary characters seemed pretty thin. Once the plot got going, however, I found myself quite gripped. And this is the book’s strength: the 200 or so pages or twists and turns, that have you second guessing what is going to happen next as the plot advances through the mires of contemporary British politics and society. Some commentators have said that Le Carre has used this novel to advance his anti-Brexit and anti-Trump agenda, but I disagree. These views are held by the character of Nat and Ed, whom over the course of the novel we come to see as flawed and blind to the reality of the situation as it is. If there is an agenda in the novel, I would see it as anti-Russian, possibly. What lets this novel down, however, is its ending. Rushed and unsatisfying, it feels as if there should be a further 100 or so pages that, for whatever reason, Le Carre didn’t write. This is not Le Carre at his best, then, but neither is it the unmitigated disaster that its initial reception seemed to suggest. ( )
  shemthepenman | Dec 30, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John le Carréprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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"A new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author John le Carré 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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