cover image The Tailor of Panama-20 Copy Mixed Book and Audio Floor Display

The Tailor of Panama-20 Copy Mixed Book and Audio Floor Display

John Le Carre. Alfred A Knopf Inc, $25 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45480-9

Le Carre himself acknowledges the debt to Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana as the inspiration for this tale of a man who is taken far more seriously as a spy by those around him than he takes himself--and who makes things up as necessary. The world has become a much darker place since Greene's comparatively light-hearted entertainment, however, and, though there is much brilliant comedy in le Carre's latest, there is also a despairing sense of how the very rich, powerful and cynical are toying with history. The tailor of the title is Harry Pendel, a former convict (he torched his Uncle Benny's tailor's establishment in the East End for the insurance) who sets up in Panama with an imaginary (deceased) partner in his past, a spurious coat of arms and a suggestion of Saville Row. He is a fine tailor, and since he measures most of the significant men in Panama (including the president and the local American commander), rogue spymaster Andy Osnard thinks he would be an ideal source of gossip and background. Harry, in debt to his ears, is only too happy to put his imagination to work, and in no time is supplying Andy with superb information for his London masters--not your traditional MI5 but a particularly unsavory collection of right-wing press lords and arms manufacturers anxious to stir things up in Panama as the date for the end of the Canal Treaty with the U.S. approaches. It's little short of brilliant the way le Carre has caught the febrile corruption of the little country, an uneasy blend of tropical backwater and late 20th-century money culture. All the characters--Harry and his long-suffering ""Zonian"" wife; ruthless, greedy Andy and his slimy bosses; and the comic-opera British Embassy staff--are rendered with breathtaking accuracy; and the careening plot, by turns uproarious, cynical and ultimately tragic, is brought off with seemingly effortless virtuosity. Le Carre remains far in front in his field, a startlingly up-to-date storyteller who writes as well about the shadows around the power elite as anyone alive. 300,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB main selections; audio and large-print editions. (Oct.)