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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 ...


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 ...


Sheng Yun: Mai Jia

10 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 ...

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 ...
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 task of ...

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 ...

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 ...

He will need a raincoat

Blake Morrison: Fathers and Sons

13 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 ...
25 October 1979
Darkness Visible 
by William Golding.
Faber, 256 pp., £4.95, January 1979, 0 571 11646 9
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... metaphysical, not homespun enough. Richard Hughes was one of our most effective local magicians; John Fowles has become one; William Golding has had the status a long time. His new novel confirms him as a master craftsman in his particular sort of magic. It is beautifully constructed, it grips the reader – so much so that its effectiveness gives it the ...


John Bayley

9 September 1993
The Life of Ian Fleming 
by Donald McCormick.
Peter Owen, 231 pp., £18.50, July 1993, 0 7206 0888 0
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... espionage worlds, and subsequently in business journalism. Unlike Fleming’s previous biographer John Pearson, Donald McCormick makes no attempt to psychologise his subject – or to reproduce the fluency which made Pearson’s book read as easily as a James Bond thriller. His justification is to produce, among much that is already familiar, some new ...

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