A Most Wanted Man

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A Most Wanted Man
First edition
AuthorJohn le Carré
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherHodder & Stoughton
Publication date
September 2008
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Preceded byThe Mission Song 
Followed byOur Kind of Traitor 

A Most Wanted Man is a thriller/espionage novel by John le Carré published in September 2008 by Hodder & Stoughton in the United Kingdom and in October 2008 by Scribner in the United States.[1]

A young Chechen ex-prisoner arrives illegally in Germany, practically uneducated and destitute, but with a claim to a fortune held in a private bank. This novel, set in Hamburg where the author was once a British agent and consul, is based on the contemporary themes of the international war on terror, money laundering, and the conflicting interests of different officers and agents and laymen who are affected.

The novel provides an extended, if oblique, critique of the American policy under President George W. Bush of extraordinary rendition. The novel's events and characters were inspired by the real-life story of Murat Kurnaz,[2] a Turkish citizen and legal resident of Germany who, after being arrested in Pakistan in 2001, was detained and claims to have been tortured in American military detention camps, first at Kandahar in Afghanistan and then at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, before being released in 2006.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

A young Turkish boxing champion in Hamburg notices he is being shadowed by a tall gaunt young man in a black coat, who turns up on his doorstep and demands hospitality. Somewhat suspiciously, they allow Issa to stay in the attic as he announces his desire to become a doctor. He contacts a human rights organisation whose attractive young bike-riding lawyer, Annabel Richter, takes his case to a British bank in the city. She bases her case to the owner, Tommy Brue, on a mysterious Lippizaner fund established by his father and held by the bank. When Brue meets Issa, he claims he is the son of a Russian, Colonel Karpov, who put his money in the fund, but after Brue's grilling, he refuses to claim his inheritance. Brue, who by this time is falling under Annabel's spell, gives her a large personal cheque to cover expenses.

Brue receives visits from British intelligence who tell him that they had set up the bank accounts, which received payoffs and money from mafia sources. They ask him to alert them when Issa shows up. A German intelligence agent, Bachmann, who visits Annabel, is homing in on a suspicious Islamist terrorist with Chechen connections, arrested entering Sweden from Turkey in a container, who has escaped custody and found his way to Germany. Annabel has moved Issa from the Turkish family to a new apartment she has recently bought but not occupied, but her evasive tactics seem suspicious to the followers. She is later apprehended in the street, interrogated by Bachmann, and a woman in the intelligence service is assigned to persuade Annabel to co-operate with them. Eventually she agrees on the basis that her client will be given a German passport and be allowed to stay.

They suggest to Annabel that Issa might be persuaded to give the money to an Islamic philanthropist called Abdullah who will give the money to charitable causes, which will include his medical training. The intelligence services are trying to link Abdullah to funding terrorism. Issa remains in Annabel's apartment whilst she tries to persuade him. Meanwhile, the British agents get a promise of co-operation from Brue ahead of a meeting of the intelligence services.

At the meeting of the Joint Committee of German authorities which has a representative of British intelligence, there are also two CIA operatives present as 'observers'. The case against Signpost, as Abdullah is referred to, is discussed. While his religion and most of the donations are deemed legitimate, attention focuses on a small transport company which seems to siphon off a small part of the shipments of food he organises, to be allegedly sold to aid terrorists. They discuss the fate of Issa and agree that they should keep the promises given to his lawyer. But the handover at the bank will be monitored by a large number of police and others on the assumption that he will be armed.

On the appointed day, Annabel and Issa meet Brue at the bank and Issa produces the key to the safe deposit box which contains the crucial documents. They complete the handover and Abdullah arrives to receive the money which is transmitted directly to the organisations involved, including the suspect transport company. The spies who have bugged the scene have all the evidence they need and as the group leaves, Bachmann approaches them disguised as a taxi-driver to apprehend Abdullah. At this point a group of masked men tumble out of a van which collides with the taxi, smashing Bachmann's arm and vanish with both Abdullah and Issa. "Justice has been rendered, man. American justice," says Newton, one of the American spooks who has appeared, "have you never heard of extraordinary rendition?" "I was asking about Issa" Bachmann said. "Issa was air, man", Newton retorted, now seriously angry.

Film treatments[edit]

A nine-minute short film detailing the themes of the book was released on 22 July 2008, produced by Simon Channing-Williams, producer of the film version of Le Carré's 19th novel, The Constant Gardener.[4]

A feature film adaptation was announced in June 2011 in Germany, with Anton Corbijn as director. Australian screenwriter Andrew Bovell adapted the novel for the screen. The film was granted US$1.3 million (€900,000) in production subsidies from Hamburg's regional film board, the FFHSH (Filmförderung ("film promotion") Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein[5]), and the city was the primary production location.[6] Malte Grunert's recently launched Hamburg- and Berlin-based Amusement Park Films produced the film.[5] The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on 19 January 2014, before release in the United States on 25 July, and the United Kingdom on 5 September.


  1. ^ Rich, Motoko (4 March 2008). "Le Carre's Return". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 October 2008.
  2. ^ Vanity Fair. Condé Nast Publications. January 2009. Retrieved 30 May 2013.
  3. ^ Sands, Philippe (6 September 2013). "Conversations with John le Carré". Financial Times. Retrieved 10 August 2014.
  4. ^ "A Most Wanted Man by John le Carré: exclusive film". The Daily Telegraph. 22 July 2008. Archived from the original on 24 August 2008. Retrieved 26 August 2008.
  5. ^ a b Meza, Ed, "Corbijn set for 'Most Wanted Man'", Variety, 19 June 2011, 2:03 pm PT. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  6. ^ Roxborough, Scott, "'The American' Helmer Anton Corbijn to Direct John Le Carré Adaptation 'A Most Wanted Man'", The Hollywood Reporter, 19 June 2011 5:33 am. Retrieved 26 July 2011.

External links[edit]