A Small Town in Germany

					John LeCarre's "A Small Town in Germany,"first published in 1969,is one of the British
author's earlier works, and one of his stand alone cold war spy thrillers. He is, of course,
one of the greatest authors of spy thrillers, and he's still publishing. His masterworks
include The Spy Who Came in from the Cold;Smiley's People; and Tinker Tailor Soldier
Spy. He certainly has ample first hand experience of the business, as he was an actual
British spy, for five years, under his birth name, David Cornwell. According to internet
biographers, he was, in fact, embedded in Soviet territory when he was blown by Kim
Philby, most famous post-war British secret service traitor; Philby's treachery might have
been fatal to him.

But the book at hand concerns doings in the British Embassy in Bonn, the capital of West
Germany at the time, and takes place in the "recent future." Britain faces interlocking
problems: it's struggling to get into the Common Market, which Germany can prevent;
and a new anti-British demagogue, Karfeld, is arising in Germany to further torment the
Brits. At that fraught moment, an Embassy quasi-staffer--Second Secretary Leo Harting,
ethnic German-- goes missing, taking along damaging files, a document trolley,
somebody's fan, somebody else's tea maker. So an un-Smiley, Alan Turner, is sent from
London to search him out. We know Turner is an un-Smiley because he's from the
Midlands, meaning he's rude, loses his temper, and dresses badly.

This book makes an extremely long, slow start, although it opens with a brief cameo of
where LeCarre intends to go. But if you are not interested -- were never that interested--in
internal German politics back then, or in Britain's gaining admission to the Common
Market, you will have a very long slog indeed to get to the good part: approximately 300
of approximately 380 pages. Furthermore, this book shares some of the problems of its
author's post cold war writing: LeCarre labors to make mountains from molehills, and to
interest his readers in the dull. However, his writing is always witty and concise, and he
does finally manage to generate some heat in the end: some readers may come to care a
bit about Harting and Turner. And finally, LeCarre has always had that knack for bang-up
set piece beginnings and endings.

				
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posted:5/25/2010
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