A Perfect Spy

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

John le Carre’s novels defy classification as simple espionage thrillers. With an emphasis on character development over plot twists and a greater interest in the traitor than in the secret he betrays, Le Carre’s books are far closer to Graham Greene in style and content than they are to Ian Fleming or Robert Ludlum.

A PERFECT SPY finds the author on familiar territory, searching beneath the surface of a polished British double agent for the reasons behind his lifelong patterns of deceit and betrayal. Magnus Pym is the spy who vanishes after receiving word of his father’s death, sending intelligence agencies on two continents into a panic of coverups and investigations. Unbeknown to his distraught wife, Mary, or his superior, Jack Brotherhood, who begins his own clandestine search, Pym is holed up in a boarding house on the English seacoast, pouring the long-submerged secrets of his past into a massive journal-cum-novel for his son.

The key to Pym’s psyche--the inner machinations that have made him, as one character tells him, “a perfect spy"-- lies in his troubled relationship with his father. A con man of astonishing versatility and charm, Rick Pym turned his son’s childhood into a jumble of expensive cars, shady hangers-on, and grand houses abandoned suddenly in the dead of night, leaving Magnus with the ineradicable memory of the father he adored being carted off abruptly by the police. Le Carre has stated in interviews that...

(The entire section is 485 words.)