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Reviews > Books >

The Night Manager

By John Le Carre, 1993

Not only one of Le Carre's best books, or one of the best post cold-war espionage books ever; this is one of the finest examples of what any writer can do with the novel as an art form. Le Carre has masterfully managed astoundingly good research with a faultless writing style, and builds up tension from start to finish.

The plot is what drives the book, and concerns the fortunes of Jonathan Pine, who starts off as Night Manager of a swanky Zurich hotel. Already an ex-soldier with intelligence connections, Pine has the misfortune to bump into 'Dicky' Roper ("The most evil man in the world", arms dealer to anyone) and his entourage of dodgy ex-services and quasi-aristocratic hangers-on when they book in to the top floor for a few days. Pine has an unfortunate penchant for beautiful gangsters' molls, and offers his services to MI6 in order to avenge the murder of a previously-betrayed beau in Cairo, by one of Roper's underworld associates...

This is where things start to get seriously interesting. Pine has a complex legend to build up so that he can infiltrate Roper's inner circle, while Intelligence masters, ministers, Lords and MPs are playing a deadly geopolitical game of national and personal interest with the lives of thousands of others. It can't be said that all of the plot is easily understandable, but then that's what gives the book real depth. The main plot, of Pine and Roper is quite straightforward. Roper is planning a massive drugs-for-guns deal, and Pine is there to report on the details. There's much more to it than that though, and it's those other layers of complexity which make the book so rewarding to read over and over again.

Le Carre opens our eyes to worlds we can only dream (or have nightmares) of: from Cornwall through the rougher ends of Bristol and Canadian ports to layers of Roper's criminal associates at his private island paradise Crystal through the narco-jungles of South America, and to the highest and stinkiest offices of British state intelligence.

A notable feature of the book is the spoken language used, to some extent of Whitehall's manderins, but mostly of Roper, his mistress Jeds, the whole cortage of dodgily pseudo-aristocratic Crystal residents and visitors, and in particular Roper's sinister and camp signer Major Corcoran. This is to a great extent one of the great pleasures of the book.

The genre of the spy novel, in the hands of a master like Le Carre, is a perfect vehicle for exploring the extremes of the human condition, and that is what this book excells at. The Night Manager isn't so much about spying per se. It's about human love, hate, betrayal, duty, strength and weakness. It's about the business of drugs, politics, money and guns. It's about life, lived bigger and more dangerously than yours.