Government knaves and compromised idealists duel over the fate of an alleged terrorist in le Carré’s latest examination of The Way We Spy Now.
A gaunt stranger in a long black overcoat materializes one night near the docks of Hamburg. Calling himself Issa, speaking only Russian, identifying himself as a Chechen Muslim, he attaches himself to Turkish heavyweight champion Melik Oktay, who gives him shelter, and Annabel Richter, the Sanctuary International lawyer who begins the long fight to normalize his position in Germany. The case for deporting Issa is strong. He’d been imprisoned in his homeland, then again in Sweden, where he’d been smuggled before escaping to Hamburg. But Issa holds one trump card. His father, Col. Grigori Borisovich Karpov, was one of a handful of Russian gangsters who opened a Lipizzaner account at the private banking firm of Brue Frères years ago. If Issa claimed the funds due his father, he’d be a rich man. Despite the urging of Annabel and Tommy Brue, the guilt-ridden heir of Brue Frères, Issa doesn’t want the money; he only wants to be granted asylum and study medicine. Or is he, as the intelligence agencies of Germany and Britain contend, a jihadist who’s arrived in Hamburg to work some frightful act of terror? As Annabel labors to keep Issa hidden from the authorities until she’s secured his legal status and Brue struggles to reconcile his commission from his father’s criminal clients with the safety of his bank and himself, Günther Bachmann, of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, warily tracks the new arrival, only to find himself under pressure from a pair of clownish but menacing British agents whose deep-laid plans have roots a generation deep.
The story can’t possibly end well, and it doesn’t. But le Carré (The Mission Song, 2006, etc.), without lecturing, deftly puts human faces and human costs on the paranoid response to the threat of terrorism.