I bought myself a John Le Carre collection for my birthday; expect to see a lot of him in the coming months. Plus, a Brandon Sanderson book is coming out. And there are some half finished things on my kindle. I hope to meet my reading goal this year.
Call for the Dead
John Le Carre
Le Carre’s first book is mostly a murder mystery, and his eventual spymaster George Smiley is introduced as a low key detective. This gives him all the hallmarks of the literary detective, right down to the sidekick in Mendel, who helps him with this case. Then about halfway through it gets into the spy stuff a little more. It is still a murder mystery, but the mystery starts to tie in more closely with Smiley’s spying history.
Smiley had cleared a suspected spy after someone sent a letter accusing him of covert activities. The man the apparently committed suicide. Smiley is stunned, because of him clearing him. The more he looks into it, the more it seems like there was something to the accusations that Smiley cleared him of. So Smiley keeps digging, and doesn’t particularly like what he finds. It is a solid mystery, with some hints of Le Carre’s future work writing spy fiction.
The Constant Rabbit
Sometimes subtlety is overrated. The Constant Rabbit is a satire of current immigration and refugee debates. About fifty years before the start of the story, a mysterious event in the world of the novel caused 18 rabbits, as well as a handful of other creatures, to anthropomorphize. While at first a lot of effort was put into integrating the rabbits with human society, a new political orthodoxy is in power, an expressly anti-rabbit one.
This climate is the one that protagonist Peter Knox finds himself in. Peter seems to think of himself as a good and not prejudiced person. However, he works for the Rabbit Compliance Taskforce as a “rabbit spotter,” one of the few humans who can tell rabbits apart. His boss is one of the foxes anthropomorphized with the rabbits; the foxes have generally integrated better by being incredibly sleazy. When a rabbit family moves in next door to Peter and his daughter Pippa, Peter has to take stock of what he really believes in. He might not be overtly prejudiced like some of his neighbors or coworkers, but he is complicit with the system; he does nothing to fight against injustice.
Still, he wants to do better and he tries to do his best to help. He gets more and more involved as the book proceeds and has to choose where he stands. It is a heightened look at issues, but it is one that is very relevant to the current day. The more the book shows of the system, the more it is apparent that everything is stacked against the rabbits. It reminded me a lot of reading The Color of Law earlier this year.
The Constant Rabbit is not subtle; it is a bludgeon of a story. But subtlety can be misinterpreted, and there is no room to misinterpret this. It is one of the best books I’ve read in some time.
A Murder of Quality
John Le Carre
This feels like the path not taken. The second Smiley book is a full-on mystery. His history as a spy plays a big part in Smiley getting involved in the murder of the wife of a teacher at a public school, since his wartime connections is what brings him in, but the mystery is all about the community around this school and the history of the victim and the other teachers. There is plenty of social satire here, like with a lot of good mysteries. It is a slight story, but I like it a whole lot.