Picks and Pans Review: The Night Manager

updated 07/12/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/12/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by John le Carré

The Wall is down, the Evil Empire fragmented. Karla has been unmasked, and George Smiley has retired—again. What now is the master of espionage fiction to do? Le Carré fans needn't worry: Not all the spies have come in from the cold.

In this richly detailed and rigorously researched 14th novel, the "us" remains British intelligence. The "them," however, has transmogrified from Moscow Central to a more vivid evil: international peddlers of military arms and their drug-lord partners.

Slowly drawn into the vortex of a multimillion-dollar guns-for-cocaine deal, Jonathan Pine, an Englishman with a troubled past, presently night manager of Zurich's Hotel Meister Palace, is eventually—and willingly—recruited In a feisty little branch of the British secret service. His mission: to worm his way into the entourage of Bahamian-based English arms dealer Thomas Roper and report on his plans.

Two circumstances complicate Pine's deadly assignment. He falls in love with Roper's girlfriend, Jed, and, in the corridors of Whitehall, he becomes a sacrificial pawn in a tangled game of ruthless realpolitik.

As the story unspools, Le Carré's gift for building tension through character has never been better realized. Presenting the moral dilemmas of ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations has always lifted the author above the genre. "There are many kinds of loyalty, and we cannot serve them all," echoes a voice from Pine's past. "You believed you were a patriot. Next time you will make a better choice. By novel's end, he does. Pine progresses from being a night manager to managing, however tenuously, the night that seems to loom beyond the last light of the Cold War. (Knopf, $24)

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