cover image The Night Manager

The Night Manager

John Le Carre. Alfred A Knopf Inc, $24 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42513-7

Previously in The Secret Pilgrim, le Carre, our premier chronicler of the spy world, gave indications of where his future interests lay, now that the Cold War and the shadow world it created are firmly behind us. In The Night Manager he expands triumphantly on those hints, emerging as a scourge of the smooth international businessmen who, with their arms and drug deals, continue to make the world a hellish place for the poor and dispossessed. The title character is former military intelligence operative Jonathan Pine, now a smoothly urbane functionary at a top Zurich hotel, who one snowy night welcomes ""the worst man in the world"" and his corrupt, effete and brutal retinue to the hotel's luxury suites. Richard Onslow Roper is a British arms merchant on a colossal scale, based in the Bahamas but trading with shell companies all over the Caribbean and Central America. He is elegant, aristocratic, utterly cold-blooded and apparently inviolable, protected as he is by rogue former agents on both sides of the Atlantic who wish, for their own geopolitical, greedy and nationalistic reasons, to keep him operative. Pine, who once lost a loved mistress who knew too much to Roper's henchmen, resolves to unmask him; and the novel, written with all le Carre's mastery of atmosphere, character and desperate political infighting among the smoothest of Old School Brits, tells how, put in place by a handful of determined incorruptibles in London and Langley, Pine contrives to become part of Roper's inner circle. There are many hair-raising set pieces, a fake kidnapping on a Caribbean island and a poundingly exciting dash to the conclusion. The windup is oddly cursory, however, suggesting that villain Roper may be planning a return. If so, the author's many fans can look forward, with the knowledge that their favorite spy writer has made a brilliant transition to a bitter new world. 450,000 first printing; BOMC main selection. (July)