Picks and Pans Review: The Little Drummer Girl

updated 04/18/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/18/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by John le Carré

The novel's main character is a young British actress who has red hair and flirts with radical causes. Is le Carré borrowing from life, with Vanessa Redgrave as his starting point? No matter; this machination-packed tale is masterfully told. Its focus is an Israeli intelligence operative who recruits the actress. He brainwashes her, then sends her to infiltrate the Palestinian liberation network and smoke out the deadliest terrorist of all. Of course, this is fiction, but le Carré provides so many authentic details—the terrible anguish of life in a Palestinian refugee camp, for instance—that readers may come away from this novel with a better understanding of the complexities of the Middle East than can be culled from straight news reports. It is also remarkable that even with an elaborate plot and with all the major characters changing names and disguises two or more times, the reader is never confused. The far-flung locales—Great Britain, Germany, Lebanon, Greece—are marvelously described too. This is a far cry from the familiar world of George Smiley and his crowd, but it's gratifying that le Carré seems to be writing about today instead of milking the Cold War for its last drop of intrigue. As usual, his writing is good and sometimes wonderful. When the top agent is on the night flight from Munich to Berlin, for example, le Carré writes: "He sat at his window, he gazed past his own reflection at the night; he became, as always when he made this journey, a spectator looking in upon his own life." (Knopf, $15.95)

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