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Cowboy Coups

Phillip Knightley, 10 October 1991

Smear! Wilson and the Secret State 
by Stephen Dorrill and Robin Ramsay.
Fourth Estate, 502 pp., £20, August 1991, 9781872180687
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... how otherwise do we explain the testimony of such a reliable figure as the military historian, John Keegan, who says that he heard King tell a group at Sandhurst in 1975 about the need for the Armed Forces to act to save the country. Keegan says: ‘I had no doubt I was listening to a treasonable attempt to suborn the loyalty of the Queen’s ...


Yun Sheng: Mai Jia, 11 September 2014

Decoded: A Novel 
by Mai Jia, translated by Olivia Milburn and Christopher Payne.
Allen Lane, 315 pp., £18.99, March 2014, 978 0 14 139147 2
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... plots, Lone Ranger clichés and gushing emotions to psychological acuity of the kind you find in John le Carré, whom he’s unlikely to have read. Mai Jia has no interest in the tradition of espionage literature (in a promotional video for Penguin he mentioned only James Bond and Mission Impossible). ‘I read very ...


Julian Barnes: On the Booker, 12 November 1987

... whole event in some sane perspective? They cannot retreat into a grand carelessness until they are John le Carré or John Fowles. They might begin, however, by running through the list of previous winners and working out how many of the last 19 would feature in any ‘true’ list of Top ...

Ruling Imbecilities

Andrew Roberts, 7 November 1991

The Enemy’s Country: Words, Contexture and Other Circumstances of Language 
by Geoffrey Hill.
Oxford, 153 pp., £19.95, August 1991, 0 19 811216 5
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... specific, criticising Malcolm Bradbury and Christopher Bigsby for presenting Margaret Drabble and John Le Carré as ‘most important writers’. He goes on to reproach the same critics for appealing to a ‘supposed consensus’ and for the use of the phrase ‘our time’, which Hill glosses as ‘your time made placable ...

Op Art

Joshua Cohen: Joshua Sobol, 3 March 2011

Cut Throat Dog 
by Joshua Sobol, translated by Dalya Bilu.
Melville House, 270 pp., £10.99, November 2010, 978 1 935554 21 9
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... need to read WikiLeaks’s unexpurgated accounts of skulduggery or even the scrupulous novels of John le Carré: to see what a mission really looks like one only has to watch the Al-Bustan Rotana’s CCTV footage, released on the internet by the Dubai Government Media Office last spring. This half-hour of footage is a gift ...

Uncle Max

Patricia Craig, 20 December 1984

The man who was M: The Life of Maxwell Knight 
by Anthony Masters.
Blackwell, 205 pp., £9.95, November 1984, 0 631 13392 5
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Unreliable Witness: Espionage Myths of the Second World War 
by Nigel West.
Weidenfeld, 166 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 297 78481 1
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The Great Betrayal: The Untold Story of Kim Philby’s Biggest Coup 
by Nicholas Bethell.
Hodder, 214 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 340 35701 0
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... 20 May, is the date of Kent’s arrest. Where else does he slip up? He mentions that Knight and John le Carré knew one another, but doesn’t see fit to add that le Carré – under his real name, David Cornwell – illustrated one or two of Knight’s post-war publications ...

Draw me a what’s-it cube

Adam Mars-Jones: Ian McEwan, 13 September 2012

Sweet Tooth 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 323 pp., £18.99, August 2012, 978 0 224 09737 6
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... to promise a high-class thriller, though the 1970s setting suggests murky dealings – with John le Carré being thanked, under the non-pen name of David Cornwell, for ‘irresistible reminiscences’ – rather than any particular glamour. Serena Frome (the pronunciation of her name, Froom, poshly at odds with its ...

John Bayley writes about Graham Greene

John Bayley, 25 April 1991

... and satisfies a popular audience on two fronts. The point becomes clear in the novels of Le Carré, Greene’s most intelligent and most faithful disciple. (Perhaps the admiration became mutual: Greene’s late thriller, The Human Factor, could almost have been written by Le Carré.) Le ...

‘This is Africa, after all. What can you expect?’

Bernard Porter: Corruption and Post-Imperialism, 26 March 2009

It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower 
by Michela Wrong.
Fourth Estate, 354 pp., £12.99, February 2009, 978 0 00 724196 5
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... like Kenyatta; he preached national unity (as they all did). One who hoped much from him was John Githongo, the hero of Wrong’s fascinating, richly researched and important new book, It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower. Githongo believed Kibaki when he proclaimed an end to corruption, and became his right-hand man in the ...

Ten Days that Shook Me

Alan Bennett, 15 September 1988

... to creature comforts. I wondered, for instance, if the Russians had got round to mineral water. John Sturrock reassured me. ‘Haven’t you heard of Perrierstroika?’ The Writers’ Union is a pleasant one-storeyed 19th-century building set round a leafy courtyard and currently being refurbished against Mr Reagan’s visit. He is to have lunch here. We ...

A Touchy Lot

Lynn Hunt: Libelling for a Living, 11 March 2010

The Devil in the Holy Water, or, The Art of Slander from Louis XIV to Napoleon 
by Robert Darnton.
Pennsylvania, 534 pp., £23, December 2009, 978 0 8122 4183 9
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Policing Public Opinion in the French Revolution: The Culture of Calumny and the Problem of Free Speech 
by Charles Walton.
Oxford, 348 pp., £32.50, February 2009, 978 0 19 536775 1
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... counsel Vince Foster (who committed suicide in 1993) in order to cover up her transgressions. John Knox was surely right to label his 1558 diatribe against powerful women only The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, so well developed is the tradition of denigrating women thought to exercise influence from behind the ...

Flitting About

Thomas Jones: Alan Furst, 14 December 2006

The Foreign Correspondent 
by Alan Furst.
Weidenfeld, 278 pp., £12.99, November 2006, 0 297 84829 1
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... engineers – under the pressure of extraordinary circumstances are compelled to act like heroes. John le Carré once called him ‘the source on which we all draw’. Alan Furst has been drawing on him for nearly twenty years: ‘The first paragraph of Kingdom of Shadows is a direct citation of Eric Ambler,’ he told an ...

Sink or Skim

Michael Wood: ‘The Alexandria Quartet’, 1 January 2009

by Lawrence Durrell.
Folio Society, 203 pp., £19.95, January 2009
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by Lawrence Durrell.
Folio Society, 198 pp., £19.95, January 2009
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by Lawrence Durrell.
Folio Society, 263 pp., £19.95, January 2009
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by Lawrence Durrell.
Folio Society, 241 pp., £19.95, January 2009
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... the handsome bribes he is paying. It’s true that all this seems closer to the fiction of John le Carré than to the theory of relativity, but a set of novels is surely none the worse for that. Durrell’s second wife, Eve Cohen, the model for Justine, at the Scottish School for Girls. From ‘Vintage ...

He will need a raincoat

Blake Morrison: Fathers and Sons, 14 July 2016

The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between 
by Hisham Matar.
Viking, 276 pp., £14.99, June 2016, 978 0 670 92333 5
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... was a bit (or more than a bit) of a rogue, as, variously, Greer, Ackerley, David Cornwell (a.k.a. John le Carré) and Tobias Wolff did. Ackerley’s left two letters, ‘to be read only in the case of my death’, in which he revealed his ‘secret orchard’: the mistress and three daughters he’d been hiding for many ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, 6 October 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
directed by Tomas Alfredson.
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... his suffering at arm’s length. The problem with the new film, the TV series of 1979 and the le Carré novel of 1974, is that they have a situation but no plot: the secret is out, the enemy is within. The situation, essentially a version of the story of Kim Philby, is mesmerising. The Russians have a double agent high up in British intelligence, a top ...

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