John le Carré has been our greatest chronicler of spycraft in the Cold War era—its intricate rituals, its bureaucratic infighting, and its life-and-death gamesmanship. Agent Running in the Field (Viking, $29) is an up-to-the-minute portrait of a spy in the age of Brexit and Putin. Our narrator is Nat, almost forty-seven, an experienced agent runner, who’s returned to London after many postings, ready to move on—or to reluctantly accept one more job. He agrees to “remodel” a substation, “a dumping ground for…fifth-rate informants.” The only promising asset is Florence, who’s building a case against a Ukrainian oligarch. He’s also adjusting to home life: reconnecting with his wife, Pru, a hardworking lawyer, and playing weekly badminton with Ed, a solitary and disaffected media drone, always ranting against Trump and Brexit. As with all le Carré, the set pieces and dialogues are masterful, mixing humor and menace: particularly memorable are a visit with an old triple agent; a long inter-office interrogation; and a ski-lift conversation where Nat reveals his job to his daughter. This is classic le Carré.
Agent Running in the FIeld by John le Carré