David Cornwell, aka John le Carré, died in December 2020 at the age of 89. Silverview, his 26th and final novel, was written some years before his death.
His son Nick Hathaway has wondered if his father delayed publishing Silverview until after his death because it was too "close to the bone" in its depiction of the British intelligence service. The critical tone of Le Carré's recent novels on the service, and a 2016 public spat with a former Head of MI6, might, however, render this theory a little less plausible.
The novel begins in a deserted East Anglian seaside town, in the late 00s, where Julian Lawndsley, 33, having amassed a fortune in the city, has decided to open up a bookshop, although he knows very little about books.
Julian is an improbable character but represents the standard Le Carré innocent who becomes entangled in a complex web of intrigue and betrayal.
Julian's life changes when Edward Avon, who claims to be a retired academic, enters the bookshop and begins to ask favours from Julian.
In reality, Edward, of Polish origin, turns out to be a former field agent, once "a bloody good joe", whose belief in the service has been impacted by events he experienced in Bosnia.
Avon's wife, who is dying of cancer, was a former top Middle Eastern analyst for British intelligence, who suspect a major security leak has emanated from one of them.
The le Carré themes are familiar, idealism morphing into betrayal and the evocation of a Britain which has lost its sense of place in the world.
Enter a decidedly Smiley figure, Stewart Proctor, Head of Domestic Security, also experiencing marital infidelity like Smiley, who begins to pick away, like a "bloodhound", at the intelligence back history of the Avons.
Le Carré writes, "Like all families of its kind, the Proctors knew from birth that the spiritual sanctum of Britain's ruling classes was its secret services".
Proctor is, however, becoming increasingly sceptical of the certainties of the ruling class.
One of Proctor's former senior colleagues reflects as to what they achieved in their careers, "We didn't do much to alter the course of human history, did we? As one old spy to another, I reckon I'd have been more use running a boys' club."
The le Carré themes are familiar, idealism morphing into betrayal and the evocation of a Britain which has lost its sense of place in the world, "poor toothless, leaderless Britain, tagging along behind (the US), because it still dreams of greatness and doesn't know what else to dream about".
Le Carré became an Irish citizen just before his death, partly in despair of Brexit.
Silverview may not be in the top rank of the le Carré novels but, despite some structural creaking, is an engrossing read, juxtaposing public duty, loyalty and individual morality.
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