British writer John Le Carre tackles thorny issues of immigration, terrorism and "extraordinary rendition" in his new novel "A Most Wanted Man," which he hinted may be his last.
The 76-year-old author of bestselling Cold War espionage thrillers like "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" takes aim at Western governments and their policies in his latest story, published last week.
"I know I've always tried to write about the now, the moment we live in, to catch the wave of today not yesterday," Le Carre, whose real name is David Cornwell, said during a lecture about his work late on Wednesday.
"It doesn't surprise me that my new novel is been accounted angry. You don't have to be old to be angry about what we have done to the world in the last six years.
"It doesn't surprise me that I can't in the novel find any very nice things to say about those who, in the name of the 'war on terror' have consigned men and women ... to black prisons around the world."
He was referring to the U.S. practice of secretly flying terrorism suspects to prisons abroad, where some suspects have said they were tortured. Human rights groups have strongly condemned the practice.
The central character in "A Most Wanted Man" is Issa, a young Chechen-Russian and devout Muslim who arrives in Hamburg and arouses suspicion in the German spy community for possible links with Islamist militants.
German civil rights lawyer Annabel tries to save him from deportation and inherit the money his father left in a secret account, controlled by 60-year-old British banker Tommy Brue.
Rival intelligence services from Germany, Britain and the United States have their own theories about who Issa and his associates are, and ultimately decide their fates.
End on a high
Le Carre told a packed audience at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall that he had no specific plans for another novel.
"I don't feel that I must go on delivering novels," he said, before adding: "Writing's been very good to me and I would like to leave it on a decent note." In a written commentary about the new book, he called it "among my best."
The author also said he wanted to avoid the mistake some other writers had made — to go on writing for too long.
"I was a little bit frightened by the example of Graham Greene, who I felt should not have published some of his very late stuff, I didn't care for it ... I'd like to end on a strong book."
Le Carre drew from personal experience when writing "A Most Wanted Man".
As a diplomat, he was posted to Hamburg in the early 1960s and was in the city on September 11, 2001. He recalled that Mohamed Atta, who flew one of two airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center, was part of an al Qaeda cell based in Hamburg.
Issa is based on a young Chechen Le Carre met in Moscow around 20 years ago, and during his research the author consulted members of Reprieve, a group representing prisoners' human rights including many held at Guantanamo Bay.
Reviews of "A Most Wanted Man" have been mostly positive, with the Telegraph calling it "a first-class novel about the most pressing moral and political concerns of our time," although the Financial Times described it as "a startlingly slipshod effort."