Le Carré may have changed publishers, but his latest novel remains as resolutely up-to-date as ever. In place of the old Cold War games, his recent books have dealt with the depredations of international arms merchants and the impact of predatory drug manufacturers on the Third World. Now his eloquent and white-hot indignation is turned on what he sees as a duplicitous war in Iraq and the devious means employed to tarnish those who oppose it. The friends of the title are two beautifully realized characters, both idealists in their very different ways. Ted Mundy, the bighearted son of a pukka Indian Army officer, leads a life in which his inborn kindliness and lack of self-regard are turned to what he sees as good causes. With Sasha, the crippled son of an old Nazi who turns bitterly against that past only to be tormented by the rise of a new brutalism in East Germany, he forms a double-agent partnership that feeds British intelligence during the Cold War years. With the collapse of the Soviet system, Ted is at loose ends, trying both to make ends meet as a cheery tour guide for English-speaking visitors to Mad Ludwig's castle in Bavaria and to support his Muslim wife and her small son in Munich. Suddenly he hears again from Sasha, who tells him that a mysterious benefactor wishes to enlist his services as teacher and translator to counter the widespread propaganda on behalf of an Iraqi war, and he is inflamed once more with a desire to help. The grim consequences are spelled out by le Carré with a deadly fury that is startling in the context of his usual urbanity. With a largely German setting that recalls some of his earliest books, as well as the same embracing clarity of vision about human motives and failings that gleams through all his best work, this is a book that offers a bitter warning even as it delivers immense reading pleasure. (One-day laydown Jan. 12)
Forecast: No reader, whatever his politics, could fail to be moved by the passion and intelligence of le Carré's latest. For those who feel as he does about the war and its consequences, this book will be a special gift.