Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 23, 2017

A Most Wanted Man (2008), by John le Carré, narrated by Michael Jayston

I probably would never have read this book if not for Tony Kevin, author of Walking the Camino and Return to Moscow. A retired diplomat who was based in Moscow during the Soviet era, Kevin recommends John le Carré as an author who depicts the intricate world of spies and diplomacy in quite realistic ways.  So, when I saw A Most Wanted Man at the library, I thought why not?  I had liked The Constant Gardener, after all…

A Most Wanted Man turned out to be quite entertaining reading.  Not surprisingly, it has been made into a film.

It’s a thriller, so I’m not going to tell you much about it.  This is the blurb:

A half-starved young Russian man is smuggled into Hamburg at dead of night. He has an improbable amount of cash secreted in a purse round his neck. He is a devout Muslim. Or is he? He says his name is Issa… Annabel, an idealistic young German civil rights lawyer, determines to save Issa from deportation. Soon her client’s survival becomes more important to her than her own career. In pursuit of his mysterious past, she confronts the incongruous Tommy Brue, the sixty-year-old scion of Brue Freres, a failing British bank based in Hamburg. Annabel, Issa and Brue form an unlikely alliance – and a triangle of impossible loves is born.  Meanwhile, scenting a sure kill in the ‘War on Terror’, the rival spies of Germany, England and America converge upon the innocents.

The interest lies in trying to work out whether Issa Karpov is what he claims to be, and whether the covert security services of Germany, England and America are (a) going to cause major grief for Annabel Richter and Tommy and/or (b) sabotage each other in their quest to out-rumble Issa and his protectors.

I found my attention drifting towards the last two or three CDs as Annabel’s attraction to Issa, and Tommy’s conversion to Issa’s cause because of his attraction to Annabel, becomes more overt and Issa spurns both of them.  He constantly proselytises his faith to Annabel (which is very boring to listen to) and she, respecting his faith, can’t even touch him.  The argument about whether Issa would or wouldn’t accept money that had been his corrupt father’s didn’t seem all that convincing when, from the outset, Issa had come to Hamburg to get it.  And the plot becomes harder to follow as Bachmann, the German counter-terrorism operative, makes things more complicated because he’s trying to ‘turn’ to his cause, both Issa and also a Muslim philanthropist called Dr. Abdullah who is funnelling money to terrorists, whether he knows it or not.

However, what the book shows is how hamstrung Germany is in dealing with terrorism.  Their Nazi past makes it imperative that they play by rules which constantly frustrate Bachmann.  OTOH as the climax shows, American exceptionalism suggests that they can do what they like, and they do.

Well, we saw them do that with Guantanamo Bay, and Australia was complicit in it too when – unlike the Brits – we abandoned our citizens to detention without trial.

Michael Jayston does a great job of rendering a diversity of accents in the narration.

John le Carré
Title: A Most Wanted Man
Publisher: Chivers Audiobooks (BBC Audiobooks), 2009, first published 2008
ISBN: 9781408431368
Source: Kingston Library



  1. Jayston is one of my favourite narrators so that would have helped enormously with the experience. My husband has been reading Le Carre’s biography which had its interesting parts but got really slow going so he abandoned it but he’d read enough to show how authentic his books are


    • A good narrator makes all the difference IMO.
      Like the bio I read of Nevil Shute. I really liked his books when I was younger, but I think I would not have liked the man at all.


  2. I like Le Carre for causal audio book ‘reading’, he’s a level above US spy/thriller writers. I do worry that this sort of writing/subject matter normalises what is a very unhealthy (and largely uncontrolled) aspect of international interaction.


    • Yes, I know what you mean. Generations of westerners grew up on the le Carre version of soviet/US relations, and perhaps now we are getting a distorted view of the world as well.


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