Prose is crisp, compelling in ‘Agent Running in the Field’

October 21, 2019 GMT
This cover image released by Viking shows "Agent Running in the Field," a novel by John Le Carre. (Viking via AP)
This cover image released by Viking shows "Agent Running in the Field," a novel by John Le Carre. (Viking via AP)

“Agent Running in the Field: a Novel,” Viking, by John le Carre

With his 25th novel, “Agent Running in the Field,” John le Carre drops the reader into the current moment of Brexit and Donald Trump and pressing issues of national identity and foreign influence.

Famous for his George Smiley espionage novels, including “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” with the Soviet Union playing the role of master Cold War foe, le Carre’s latest book features Russia as a threat to Western democracy. Sound familiar?

Spy recruiter and agent runner Nat has returned to London and wife Prue, expecting to be put out to pasture after decades of patriotic service for British intelligence, with stints in Moscow, Budapest and Helsinki, among others. Instead of retirement, Nat is asked to run a local Russia-focused London substation named The Haven, staffed by a motley crew of low-level defectors and European recruits.

Within the confines of The Haven, Nat finds Florence who is herself running an agent and appears to be sitting on a gold mine of intelligence: back-channel funding and Ukrainian oligarchs, possibly leading to Moscow Centre, the heart of Russia’s spy network. What Nat doesn’t know at the time is that separate from his new assignment he has already met a key player in the drama about to unfold while playing badminton at his sports club. Ed, who at first glance is curious and shy, challenges Nat to a game of badminton and the two form a man’s sports acquaintance over post-match drinks.


Three lives collide as Nat tries to run an operation amid office intrigue, uncertain allegiances and the larger politics of 2018 Britain. Le Carre’s Ed spews anti-Trump and anti-Brexit rhetoric, however, the author remains an idealist in the face of this new Cold War. He believes in the power of doing the right thing.

Le Carre’s Nat relies on his 25 years of experience as an agent runner to navigate the competing forces of money and power, patriotism and love. And with a style honed over 25 novels and more than 50 years, the author’s prose is crisp and compelling and the story is relevant to today’s turbulent times.