Growing up a fan of James Bond films, I’ve always had a romanticized vision of what it would be like to have a career in espionage. Of course, the 007 franchise is not a realistic depiction of what spies do and the iconic spy novelist John Le Carre’s books are closer to the truth than any Bond film. Agent Running in the Field was his last novel to be published before his death. The book didn’t feel like he wrote the book in his 80s and it was a turn-paging thriller for me. He is such a good writer that his books are more than a standard thriller, and his character development and description of scenes and emotions are interesting as well.
One takeaway from this book is that spies deceive for a living. I know that is obvious, but the story helped me understand the impact of lies on the double agents spies manage and their families and colleagues. It is not glamorous, but seedy. I know the CIA or MI6 are big organizations and government intelligence is important. I would rather have governments know what their rival nations are doing and thinking rather than be in the dark. There are also many jobs in the intelligence service and I think I could work behind the scenes or intelligence collecting through other means that supporting traitors.
There were a few quotes in the book that hit close to home.
“Our daughter Steff, as we were soon calling her, would never become the kind of diplomatic brat we had seen too many of, over-nannied and shuffled from country to country and school to school in the wake of their mothers and fathers.” – This was after his the spy’s wife insisted she stayed in the UK and her daughter attend a public school.
“Well, now I was home from the sea, as Dom had kindly said. It hadn’t been easy for either of us, Prue particularly, and she had every reason to hope that I was back on dry land for good and looking for a new life in what she referred to, a little too often, as the real world.” – My wife Nadia often refers to the expatriate life as “not real”.
“For as long as I was a diplomat abroad, I at least had status. Back in the mother country, I was part of the grey mass.” – One of the reasons I chose a life abroad was to escape the ordinary. Expats live above the standards of life back at home.
“Nothing went wrong. I have houses in Petersburg and Tbilisi. However, as an internationalist I love best my Karlovy Vary. We have an Orthodox Cathedral. Pious Russian crooks worship in it once a week. when I am dead I shall join them. I have a trophy wife, very young. All my friends want to f… her. What more should I want from life? he demands in low swift tones. – A life lived abroad allows you to feel comfortable and happy living in several different countries. I always say that every place I lived has its good and bad aspects.
New vocabulary – tarmacadam (paving material made of rock, tar and sand) / emetic (something that causes vomiting) / redoubtable (causing fear or alarm; formidable)
I got the book through the Great Lakes Digital Library and so it was free. The app, Libby is like a Kindle and pretty good. It has statistics of how long it took you to read the book or at least how long I had the App open with the book. It recorded over 8 hours.
I love John LeCarre books because he understands expatriate life and can tell a good story. He died in 2020 but left behind 32 books published from 1961 to 2021.