Allen J. Hubin

JOHN le CARRÉ – The Russia House. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1989; Bantam, paperback, 19890. First published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1989. Film: MGM, 1990 (Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer).

   The latest John le Carré tale, The Russia House, departs from the Smiley oeuvre but otherwise is in the usual le Carré vein. Nothing much happens in 353 pages, but the language is elegantly expressive, the principal character is beautifully rendered, the workings of the intelligence agencies (U.S. and British) are recounted with surgically satiric precision, and what moves the hearts of people is most poignantly expressed.

   A manuscript of a novel, apparently penned by a Russian physicist, comes to failing London publisher Barley Blair via Katya, a woman associated with a Moscow book agency. And via British Intelligence, which intercepts the manuscript when Barley is missing — out drinking and womanizing, as usual — at the critical time.

   The Intelligence boffins are in a gentlemanly frenzy over what the “novel” says about Soviet military capability and want Barley to go over and milk the physicist of every smidgen he contains. The Americans, whose frenzy is never gentlemanly, also come to have a part in the proceedings.

   Strange what tools come to hand in the spying game; stranger still what their use may lead to….

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Editorial Comment:  For my review of the film, go here.