The great subject that's fascinated le Carre (The Night Manager, 1993, etc.) throughout his career — what happens to the masters of tradecraft in a world that doesn't match their trade — comes in for unsettlingly timely treatment in this latest tale of spies grown too old and knowing. Back in the sorely missed old world order, Larry Pettifer was a British double agent inside the KGB who shuttled back and forth between his two sets of masters with nary a care. Now, just as he's about to start the job his old school-friend Timothy Cranmer has found him at the University of Bath, he's gone missing, together with Cranmer's decorative lover Emma Manzini. A pair of hectoring police officers, who inevitably turn out to be Special Branch, are convinced that Cranmer knows what happened to his old colleague, and Cranmer is doubly frantic: first to hide any links between his mistress and her current lover, then to hide the fact that he may have killed Pettifer himself at their last momentous meeting. May have? It's typical of Cranmer, the good Englishman who's as dispassionate a professional as George Smiley, that he can't be sure whether or not he really killed his opposite number, a Byronic moralist full of passionate convictions about every battle he's ever fought. The news that Pettifer's old KGB controller Konstantin Checheyev has disappeared at the same time with a self-administered $37 million retirement fund allows Cranmer to identify Pettifer's latest cause — the uprising in Checheyev's native Chechen republic — but doesn't tell him what to do about it: He can only call on the tricks of his tradecraft one last time in a sad, mad chase over Europe and Russia to find Pettifer, without any idea what he can say if he's lucky enough to find him still alive. The debate between noncommittal Cranmer and heroically partisan Pettifer, which is at the heart of the novel, is never satisfyingly dramatized — lots of peevish flashbacks have to do the job of pricking Cranmer's conscience — but le Carre has never written more subtly or tellingly of the fate of agents doomed by their own success.

Pub Date: March 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-679-44189-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1995

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.


Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.


Ninth in the author’s Gray Man series (Mission Critical, 2019, etc.) in which “the most elite assassin in the world” has his hands full.

Ex–CIA Agent Courtland Gentry (the Gray Man) has Serbian war criminal Ratko Babic in his gun sight, but when he decides instead to kill the old beast face to face, he uncovers a massive sex-slavery ring. “I don’t get off on this,” the Gray Man lies to the reader as he stabs a sentry. “I only kill bad people.” Of course he does. If there weren’t an endless supply of them to slay, he’d have little reason to live. Now, countless young Eastern European women are being lured into sexual slavery and fed into an international pipeline, sold worldwide through “the Consortium.” Bad guys refer to their captives as products, not people. They are “merchandise,” but their plight haunts the Gray Man, so of course he is going to rescue as many women as he can. The road to their salvation will be paved with the dead as he enlists a team of fighters to strike the enemy, which includes a South African dude who is giddy for the chance to meet and kill the Gray Man. Meanwhile, Europol analyst Talyssa Corbu meets the hero while on a personal mission to rescue her sister. “You don’t seem like a psychopath,” she tells him. Indeed, though he could play one on TV. Corbu and her sister are tough and likable characters while the director of the Consortium leads a double life as family man and flesh merchant. Human trafficking is an enormous real-life problem, so it’s satisfying to witness our larger-than-life protagonist put his combat skills to good use. There will be a sequel, of course. As a friend tells the wounded Gentry at the end, he’ll be off killing bozos again before he knows it.

Great storytelling about the pursuit of extrajudicial justice.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09891-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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