Port Solent, Hampshire, United Kingdom
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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 29-03-11

Like meeting an old friend after way too long

I read the book when it first came out years ago. At the time I felt that it was a bit of a let-down compared to the two previous novels, 'Tinker, Tailor' and 'The Honourable Schoolboy'. Having revisited it with this reading, I feel I was too harsh. Maybe I have just got used to poorer fare from lesser authors. This is high quality Le Carre, and for anyone steeped in the books from years back, it is like welcoming an old friend and wondering why it has taken so long.

The characters are life-like; flawed but in a realistic, patchy way rather than the black-and-white of many inferior thrillers. Even though you know the ending, the journey is the thing, with our old gunslinger on one last, lonely quest. If you do not know it, I will not spoil it, but it is a lovely finish to the Smiley saga. The pace is better than I remember. It is certainly better than the TV series, which I suspect the BBC felt needed to appeal to a broader audience given the success of 'Tinker, Tailor'.

Last words need to go to Michael Jayston; a veteran of the original TV series (though not 'Smiley's People') and of many Le Carre readings. He absolutely nails this book, clearly reveres the Sir Alec Guinness characterisation and brings it to life superbly.

This is a joy to listen to and has proven the perfect Le Carre introduction for my wife. Now she knows what I have been banging on about.

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16 of 16 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-10-10

Good research, woeful structure

I approached this with interest but some anxiety; would it be just another retelling of Nazi atrocities - important and never to be forgotten but one might hope for more. This book delivers, up to a point. It is meticulously researched and this shows in the way that the author demolishes the reputation of Simon Wiesenthal, presenting him as a charlatan, playing on the sympathies of guilty nations attracted to the concept of the lone Jewish warrior for truth. Walter's forensic development of a small number of war criminals' stories is authoritative. His dismissal of the Odessa 'myth' of a powerful neo-Nazi network is utterly convincing.

The weakness of this book is the structure. For the life of me I cannot fathom the narrative of this book. It bounces from one character to the next, crossing decades within a paragraph and with the merest of linkages. It is a great shame, because this is a very detailed, authoritative narrative, hopelessly let down by a shambolic structure.

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6 of 8 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-08-09

Great history by a great historian

Alistair Horne has a great track record of superb military histories. I came to this with a curiosity about such a long war, but one little understood in the UK and poorly served in English. This is an early Horne book and shows him at the height of his powers. This is a long book at 30 hours, and I have to confess to flagging sometimes, but the sheer weight of the scholarship and narrative keeps you going. It was a also a tremendous revelation for someone who was a few years from the world before this war ended, as to just how close to civil war France came. The Day of the Jackal is not so far fetched as one reads of the most salient of De Gaulle's 15 or so assassination attemnpts.

A fine book, populated by powerful characters, with De Gaulle standing taller than he did as a World War II figure, and with a clear case as the greatest Frenchman ever- and yes, I have read Horne's much later book on Napoleon!

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 21-02-09

Brilliant book, brilliantly performed

If you come to this book as I did via Birdsong, then you will find this a very different proposition, but for my money a better book. It's difficult to say much about it without giving away the plot, but to describe this novel as a 'psychological thriller' would be to do it a massive injustice. This is a technical masterpiece by one of the finest British writers alive today. Every word is spoken through the principal character, whom we follow from school through university and beyond. One engages with this single character through formative experiences that are vividly drawn in a dark, but totally credible life. There are flashes of erudition, scenes of dark tension, yet it is often 'laugh out loud' funny. The differences in perspective that other characters bring on Engleby are introduced with great skill. It was only when I finished this book that I realised quite how well it was written and constructed.

This brilliant, superbly written story would not work as an audiobook without a similarly brilliant performance by the reader. I say 'performance' advisedly; Micheal Maloney renders Engelby wonderfully. He interprets the principal character with a deft, pitch-perfect delivery. If there is such a thing as the 'Oscars' for reading audiobooks, then this deserves a nomination.

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29 of 30 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-01-09

Interesting, but not what it purports to be

This book trumpets itself as an expose of a cold-war sensation; the deliberate sinking of a US submarine by the Soviets. In actual fact, there is next to nothing about that hypothesis, which is referred to as undeniable and yet no evidence is even hinted at for such a radical claim. There is merit in this book, though. As a narrative of what it was like on submarines during the cold war, and for the families of those men in the late '60s, it is a fine testament, brought to life with real empathy. Nevertheless, the sensationalist promise of this book is, perhaps inevitably, not fulfilled, but surprisingly no attempt is even made to do so.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful