Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carre

A good read with all the classic features of a Le Carre novel - characters trying to salvage themselves and their failed lives over something they eventually would have no control of.

Brue took a slow tour around the room
Why, on earth did you do it dear father of mine?
Why, when all your life you traded on your good name and that of your forebears and lived by it in private and in public, in the higher traditions of Scottish caution, canniness and dependability: why put all that at risk for the sake of a bunch of crooks and carpetbaggers from the East whose one achievement had been to plunder their country's assets at the moment when it had most need of them?
Why throw open you bank to them? -  your beloved bank, your most precious thing? Why offer safe haven to their ill-gained loot, along with unprecedented terms of secrecy and protection?
Why stretch every norm and regulation to its snapping-point and beyond, in a desperate - and as Brue had perceived it, even at that time - reckless attempt to set himself up as Vienna's banker of choice to a bunch of Russian gangsters?
All right, you hated Communism and Communism was on its deathbed. You couldn't wait for thee funeral. But the crooks you were being so nice to were part of the regime!
No names needed, comrades! Just give us your loot for five years and we'll give you a number! And when you next come and see us your Lippizzaners will be lily-white, full-grown, runaway investments! We do it just like the Swissies, but we're Brits so we do it even better!
Except we don't, thought Brue sadly, hands linked behind his back as he paused to peer out of the bay window.
We don't, because great men who lose their marbles in old age die; because money relocates itself and so do banks; and because strange people called regulators appear on the scene and the past goes away. Except that it never quite does, does it? A few words from a choirboy voice and it all comes galloping home.

Yes, Mitzi, I am flushed and busy. No, I am not Friday night. I just gave away the best fifty thousand euros of my life and yet have to work out why. Buy time for him? What are you going to do with him? Get him a suite at the Atlantic?
This Friday night I walked all the way home on my own. No cab, no limousine. Lighter by fifty thousand euros and felling better for it. Was I followed? I don't think so. Not by the time I got lost in Eppendorf.
I marched through flat, straight roads that all looked the same and my head refused to tell me where to go. But that wasn't fear. That wasn't me shaking off pursuers, even if there were any.  That was my compass going on the blink.
This Friday night I hit the same crossroads three times, and if I were standing there now, I still wouldn't know which way to turn.
Look back on my eventless life, what do I see? Escape. Whether its been woman trouble, bank trouble, or Georgie trouble, dear old Tommy's always been halfway out of the door by the time the balloon goes up. It wasn't him, it was two other people, he wasn't there, and anyway they hit him first: that was dear old Tommy for you.
Whereas Annabel - if I may call you so - well, you're the other way aren't you? You're a collision girl. The real thing -which is presumably why I am thinking Annabel, Annabel, when I should be thinking: Edward Amadeus, you mad, dead beloved man, look at the mess you've left me in!
But I am not in a mess. I'm a happy investor. I haven't bought out, I've bought in. That fifty grand was my ticket of entry. I'm a partner in whatever plan you've got up your sleeve. And the name is Tommy, by the way.

Who've you got, Annabel? Who do you talk to - now this minute? Who do you share yourslef with when you hit the bottom of the sea?
One of Georgie's radical blowhards with long hair, no fifty grand and and no manners?
Or some older, richer man of the world who can talk you down when you go off-scale?
Fathers, he thought as the pill began to take a hold of him. Mine and Issa's. Brothers in crime, riding into the sunset on pitch-black Lippizzaners that refuse to turn white.
And your father, who's he when he's at home? Another one of me. Rejected and reviled - with justice? Only loved, if at all from a range of eight thousand miles? But he's part of you all the same, I can feel it. I can feel it in your self-assurance, in your whiff of social arrogance, even when you are saving the Wretched of the Earth.
Issa, he thought. Her foundling. Her tortured man-child. Her black-arsed Chechen who is only half a Chechen but insists he is a whole one, while he spouts ironies at me like those bearded Russian emigres who used to hang around Montparnasse, every one of them a genius.
Issa's the chap who should go walk around Eppendorf, not me.

I am doing this for my client Magomed, she told herself as she fought for clarity in the mayhem of her mind.
I'm doing it for my client Issa.
I'm doing it for life over law.
I'm doing it for me.
I'm doing it because Brue the banker gave me money, and the money gave me the idea. But thats not true at all! The idea was growing inside me long before Brue's money. Brue's money only tipped the scales. The moment I sat down with Issa and heard his story, I knew that this is where the system stops, that this was the unsavable life I must save, that I must think of myself not as a lawyer but as a doctor like my brother Hugo and ask myself: what is my duty to this injured man, what sort of German lawyer am I if I leave him in the legal gutter to bleed to death like Magomed?
As long as I think like that, I'll keep my courage.

That Annabel, the family rebel, had even succumbed to the law herself was a continuing mystery to her. Was it to please her parents? Never. Perhaps she had imagined that by entering their profession she could demonstrate her difference from them in language they understood; that she would wrench the law from the hands of the rich and easy, and take it to the people who had most need of it. If so, nineteen months in the sanctuary had told her how wrong she was.
And she was right. Come the day, come the client: Issa.
Except that before Issa, Magomed had come, and it was Magomed - stupid, trusting, abused, not particularly truthful Magomed -  who taught her, never again.
Never again the too-lat dawn rush to the airport; or the plane for Petersburg standing on the runway with its passenger door open; or the trussed figure of her cleint being bundled up the steps; or the hands - were they real or imagined? - the cuffed hands helplessly waving goodbye to her through the cabin window.

He's simply another client, she repeated angrily to herself as she closed the door behind her and snapped shut the aged padlock.
A client who is in need of special attention, granted. Unorthodox attention. Illegal attention. But a client for all that. And soon he'll get the medical care he needs as well.
He's a case, a legal case with a file. All right, a patient too. He's a damaged and traumatized child whose had no childhood, and I'm his lawyer and his nanny and his only connection to the world.
He's a child but he knows more about pain and captivity and the worst of life than I ever will. He's arrogant and helpless, and half the time that he's saying bears no relation to what he's thinking.

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