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Curtis Hanson (1945-2016)

September 21, 2016

I was saddened to learn this morning of the death of film director and screenwriter Curtis Hanson. Hanson will forever be remembered for adapting (with Brian Helgeland) and directing the big screen adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel L.A. Confidential. Hanson had already built a reputation as a director with a brilliant grasp of genre with the thrillers The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992) and The River Wild (1994), before he began work on adapting what is perhaps Ellroy’s most complicated novel. Ellroy himself had said of L.A. Confidential:

I knew my book was movie-adaptation-proof. The motherfucker was uncompressible, uncontainable, and unequivocally bereft of sympathetic characters. it was unsavoury, unapologetically dark, untameable, and altogether untranslateable to the screen.

But for Hanson it was a labour of love, he said of Ellroy’s fiction:

Many find Ellroy’s novels unremittingly dark. I don’t. His humor and strength of personality shine through. He’s a survivor. Whether he intends it or not, that strength of spirit illuminates even the darkest of his nightmare visions.

The screenplay took some major deviations from the novel, all for the better in my opinion, making the narrative more linear and comprehensible for the screen. The fate of Jack Vincennes is completely different in the film than it is the novel, but rightly so as I’ll never forget the shock I felt the first time I saw the kitchen scene with Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) and Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), where Spacey fatefully whispers ‘Rollo Tomasi’.

It’s worth noting too that every time I watched an interview with Hanson I was struck by how kind and even-tempered he sounded, completely destroying the myth that the best directors are tyrants who have to mentally torture their actors to get the best performances. I imagine he was a joy to work with.


Curtis Hanson with Guy Pearce and James Ellroy

Hanson and Helgeland won an academy award for their screenplay adaptation of LA. Confidential, but shamefully the bauble for Best Picture that year went to James Cameron’s hammily acted, drearily written and thoroughly waterlogged Titanic. Hanson never quite matched the success of L.A. Confidential with his later films, but lets face it who could? I would highly recommend his comedy-drama Wonder Boys (2000), a charming but incisive portrayal of academe which has a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from Ellroy.

In any event if Curtis Hanson had never made another movie L.A. Confidential would still have been a big enough achievement for a lifetime. He took Ellroy’s unfilmable novel and turned it into a neo-noir masterpiece and one of the best crime films of all time. I’ll be watching it tonight for the umpteenth time in tribute to him, and perhaps I might feel a slight lump in my throat when  Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) whispers in that irresistibly sexy voice ‘Some men get the world. Others get ex-hookers and a trip to Arizona.’

Thank you Curtis Hanson.

Mr Campion’s Fault – Review

September 2, 2016

Mr Campion's FaultContinuation novels are a tricky business as an author is always likely to run in to an army of purists who will automatically dislike their work as infringing on the body of work of their literary hero. As much as I disapprove of this form of genre small-mindedness it does have a certain logic. I always enjoyed John Gardner’s James Bond novels for instance, although I have to concede they do not remotely touch the work of Ian Fleming.

Mike Ripley’s decision to continue the Albert Campion series more than forty years after Margery Allingham’s death was at the very least a brave one. After all, Allingham was one of the most revered authors of the Golden Age and her aristocratic detective appeared in eighteen of her novels and countless short stories. The series was first revived by Allingham’s widower Philip Youngman Carter and Ripley’s first entry in the series, Mr Campion’s Farewell (2014), was the completion of a Youngman Carter manuscript. This was followed by Mr Campion’s Fox (2015) and now we have Mr Campion’s Fault.

In Mr Campion’s Fault the sudden death of the senior English master, Bertram Brown, of Ash Grange School for Boys brings Mr Campion to the fictional Yorkshire village of Denby Ash where his son Philip is coaching the school rugby team and his daughter-in-law Perdita has been trying to keep the late Brown’s long-planned musical production of Dr Faustus alive. Campion walks into an environment where miners are considered the upper classes, Methodism vies with local folklore about poltergeists as the dominant superstition, and northern bluntness is almost a foreign language to the well-heeled sleuth who begins to suspect that Brown’s death in a car accident may not have been so accidental after all. It’s not just Campion who found the setting alien. Any youngish British reader might believe they are reading about another world at times, but that, for me, was part of the appeal. I was enticed by descriptions of coal-mining in all its beauty and horror:

Mr Campion had gently steered the conversation to include the history and sociology of Denby Ash.

It had been, the headmaster had informed him, a pet theory of the late Bertram Browne that the people of Denby Ash were inextricably linked, economically and philosophically, to the seams of coal which ran under the village. With his background as a Sapper, the late Mr Browne had naturally taken an interest in matters geological and the ‘black gold’ on which the prosperity of the local population depended and whose bounty had been, in a way, responsible for the existence of Ash Grange School.  There were those who found it whimsical that the long, subterranean solid rivers of coal were known as ‘Flockton Thick’ and ‘Flockton Thin’. Indeed, certain habitués of the Staff Room, who really should have known better, used the expression to describe formal gatherings of the Mothers’ Union, but not Bertram. He knew that Flockton Thick referred to twin seams each two-feet thick, whilst Flockton Thin was a 15-inch layer of coal of the very highest quality, and neither were laughing matters for down there, six hundred feet underground, the men of Denby Ash (and, a century ago, not a few women and children) had lost their lives harvesting  them.

Ripley admits that ‘Yorkshire was certainly not a natural hunting ground for Margery Allingham and taking the Campions there may be a risk’ but he imbues the new setting with both attention to detail and a witty affection culled from his own childhood upbringing in the West Riding. Sprinkled with the biting wit readers of Ripley’s Angel novels and his Getting Away With Murder column have become accustomed to, Mr Campion’s Fault is a welcome addition to the series which has the potential to draw in new readers and win round Allingham purists.

Albert Teitelbaum – The Man Who Sued James Ellroy

August 27, 2016

James Ellroy is often asked whether his fictional portrayals of real-life historical figures have ever lead to legal problems. In 1996 he told interviewer Paul Duncan, ‘I have never gotten into trouble using real people in my books because they are dead and can’t sue me. […] The Kennedy’s, for instance, would never sue. So much is written about them that, if they were to sue, they’d be in court all day, every day, and that way they wouldn’t have time to [text deleted].’

However, within a few years of this statement, Ellroy had inadvertantly broken his own cardinal rule and was being sued to the tune of $20,000,000. The plaintiff was not a member of the Kennedy clan, but a retired and long- forgotten Hollywood furrier named Albert Teitelbaum.

‘Tijuana, Mon Amour’ is a typical piece of work from Ellroy’s short story/novella period. Hush-Hush editor Danny Getchell alliteratively narrates a sordid tale of 1950s Hollywood shenanigans loosely revolving around a payola scandal, a fake fur heist and a child Labour camp in Tijuana (a locale which has become the Sodom and Gomorrah of the noir world). Heavily reliant on pastiche and Ellroy’s willingness to offend, it ranks among my least favourite of the Demon Dog’s works. It is rather apt then that the most notable thing about the story is it led to Ellroy being sued.

'Tijuana, Mon Amour' was reprinted in Crime Wave

‘Tijuana, Mon Amour’ was reprinted in Crime Wave

In the story Getchell and cohort Sammy Davis Jr become embroiled in a fake fur heist and insurance scam arranged by Teitelbaum. Ellroy had rashly presumed Teitelbaum was dead and based the fur heist on a real-life ‘robbery’ which happened at Teitelbaum’s fur store on December 27, 1955. Teitelbaum reported to the police that four men bound him and an assistant at gunpoint and then stole furs worth $280,000, but a county grand jury later indicted him for faking the heist. Teitelbaum was found guilty and sentenced to one year in the Los Angeles County Jail (years later, Ellroy would do time in the same institution). Teitelbaum could hardly complain that Ellroy fictionalised the fur heist. After all he was found guilty and the conviction was upheld despite several appeals. However, the basis of Teitelbaum’s claim was that Ellroy has the fictional Teitelbaum caught ‘buck-naked’ in the boudoir with Linda Lansing and real-life murderess Barbara Graham. In addition, Ellroy elaborated on the heist to have Teitelbaum using Lansing to fence the furs for him in Tijuana, a detail Teitelbaum’s lawyer Charles Morgan, who hounded The New Yorker for ten years in an infamous libel case, was adamant never occurred. Subsequently, when ‘Tijuana, Mon Amour’ was reprinted in the anthology Crime Wave (1999) the Teitelbaum character was renamed Louie Sobel, amusingly after Ellroy’s literary agent Nat Sobel who rescued his career in the 1980s (although they have recently parted ways). Here’s how the heist is described in the story (in recognition of the Teitelbaum lawsuit, the furrier below is named Louie Sobel):

I went in as the Wolfman. Sammy crept in as the Creature from the Black Lagoon. We moved our minkmobile into the back lot and barged in the back door.

5:46 P.M.

Fourteen minutes to filch furs and fill up the van. Fourteen minutes to fuck the fur-filchers already assigned to the job.

We monster-minced down a mink-lined hallway. We froze by the freezer vault. Louie Sobel latched eyes on on us and laughed long and loud.

He howled and heaved for breath. He broke a sweat and swatted his legs. He swayed and pointed to a pile of pelts on the freeer floor.

He hocked into a hanky. He said, “Go, you fershtunkener furmeisters. Go, before I die of a fucking coronary.”

Sammy popped the pelts into a large laundry bag. I shot my eyes into the showroom. I scanned scads of sensational sables and choice chincillas and magnificent minks. Our paltry pile of pelts paled in considered contrast.

Sobel said, “Hit me once, tie me up, and get out of here. Your theatrics are wearing me thin.”

I pulled my piece and pistol-whipped him to a pulp. I decimated his dentures. Blood dripped on my dress blues.

Sobel sunk into dreamland. I dropped him in the freezer and gagged him with a gorgeous gaggle of furs. Sammy gloated and glared at the ofay oppressor. He muttered mau-mau musings and metamorphosed into the Creature from the Coon Lagoon.

Although Ellroy has said little about the Teitelbaum controversy since, probably as a consequence of the settlement which I imagine was a lot less than the 20 million asking price, it can not be overstated the negative affect it had on his career. At the height of the lawsuit, GQ Editor-in-Chief Art Cooper (who had personally hired Ellroy) threw a party in Ellroy’s honour (Ellroy has been awarded GQ Novelist of the Year award twice). Carl Swanson reported from the event: ‘Mr Ellroy did not look to be in much of a partying mood. In fact, guests noted that he did not work the room much, and they spotted him talking solemnly with Mr Cooper by the stairway at the end of the bar.’ It’s also probably not a coincidence that within a few years both Cooper and Ellroy would be fired by GQ.  Ellroy would lament in an interview with Craig McDonald a few years later, ‘Astonishingly, I got the boot. Odd.’

Mario Lanza

Mario Lanza

So who then was Albert Teitelbaum, the man who somewhat inadvertantly caused Ellroy so much grief at the height of his literary career? The more I read about him, the more I feel a soft spot for the self-styled ‘furrier to the stars’. For instance, he designed a ermine eye patch for Elizabeth Taylor, but she couldn’t wear it ‘because of the dangers of fur next to my eye. But I loved the idea’ Taylor is reported to have said by biographer William J. Mann. In addition to his splendidly Ruritanian career as a furrier, Teitelbaum also spent time as the manager of Mario Lanza. As Lanza’s biographer Derek Mannering put it:

Why or how anyone thought that a Beverley Hills furrier would be an appropriate person to handle the career of the most famous – and to some the most infamous – tenor in the world is not clear. But to Teitelbaum’s credit he lost no time in getting to work.

Lanza and Teitelbaum and their wives had been friends for years and the tenor took a chance on Teitelbaum when his career was floundering. Unfortunately for Lanza, Teitelbaum’s fortunes had also turned and Lanza’s reputation would be tainted in an impending scandal. Lanza was among a host of Hollywood celebrities who acted as character witnesses for Teitelbaum at his trial, others included Joan Crawford and Louella Parsons. Lanza was integral to Teitelbaum’s defence as he arrived at the store shortly after the staged robbery and testified he found Teitelbaum ‘upset and shaking’. Unfortunately for Teitelbaum, Lanza’s arrival at the store may have been his undoing as legal documents show it was unlikely 280 furs could have been removed between the time of the alleged robbery and his meeting with Lanza:

The crux of the entire case was whether the furs for which appellant made claim against his insurance carrier were stolen on the night in question, i.e., did a robbery take place on that night or was there merely a fake robbery. Appellant offered no direct evidence to controvert the testimony of Weiss as corroborated by the confession of the appellant that the alleged robbery was faked and that no furs were stolen. The only witness called by the defense as to the event was the witness Stan. His testimony practically dovetailed with that of Weiss. While the evidence produced by the appellant showed that it was possible for four men to remove 280 fur garments from the vault to a vehicle in the alley within the short period of time that elapsed before the witnesses Lanza [163 Cal. App. 2d 224] and Walge arrived at appellant’s place of business, there was not an iota of evidence that more than one alleged robber was in the store.

According to Lanza’s biographer Roland L. Bassette the tenor ‘was dragged into the sordid mess by circumstance and association. His fortunes were not advanced by the publicity that resulted.’ However, Lanza and Teitelbaum would not part ways immediately. Teitelbaum was with the singer in Italy when Lanza was starring in the movie Seven Hills in Rome (1958) when he learned his conviction was upheld on appeal. He resigned as Lanza’s manager and returned to the U.S. to serve his sentence. According to Jeff Rense, whatever Teitelbaum’s faults he had a massively beneficial effect on Lanza’s life, and especially his movie career: ‘I can also state that without Al Teitelbaum, we would NOT have either Serenade or The Seven Hills Of Rome (and probably For The First Time) to view and treasure today. […] The story of how Al was flown to Italy by MGM on a moment’s notice to save and oversee the floundering production of Seven Hills is, well, amazing. Al literally guided the day by day production of the entire film.’ Nicky Pelligrino’s novel When in Rome (2012) gives a fictional portrayal of Lanza’s time in Italy with Teitelbaum helping the singer overcome his alcoholism and making his appearance in the film possible.

Teitelbaum died in May 2011 aged 95 or 96, and a full twelve years after Ellroy first presumed he was dead when writing ‘Tijuana, Mon Amour’. Although he cost Ellroy both money and credibility, in many ways Teitelbaum was the ultimate Ellrovian character and I doff my fur hat to him.


A Good Month for Murder – Review

August 1, 2016

I have a piece in Shotsmag reviewing Del Quentin Wilber’s fascinating true-crime work A Good Month for Murder: The Inside Story of a Homicide Squad. Here’s the link.


Eurosceptic Crime Fiction: What Now?

July 2, 2016

Well the results are in, and to the astonishment of practically everyone, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. I’ve been studying and publishing about the rather niche subject of Eurosceptic crime fiction for a few years now, and I’ve made my feelings known about the EU, so you can probably guess the way I voted.

For millions of people throughout the country, myself included, the referendum put a strain on personal and professional relationships. I think we’re all relieved it’s over, even if the vote didn’t go the way we would have wished.

There has been some sour grapes on the Remain side, but I can hardly blame them. I found myself rereading George MacDonald Fraser’s memoir The Light’s on at Signpost (2002) in which he discusses the 1975 referendum in which Britain voted to stay in the EEC:

The holding of a referendum more than a year after entry was a cynical fraud, and not only because it was preceded by a massive campaign to ensure a “yes” vote. The claim that this was a fair procedure was rather like pretending that there is no difference between giving a man on shore a free choice of getting into a boat or remaining on land, and forcing him aboard, rowing him out to sea, and then asking him if he wants to get out or not.

In economic terms, the result has already put a few people out of work, for there is simply no reason to produce any more Eurosceptic thrillers (and only a few titles had been produced so far). Just as the genre looked set to take off, it lost its raison d’être. The question now is will the Eurosceptic genre spread to the continent like the Brexit contagion. We’ve already had one novel from an Icelandic writer, and another by a British writer which was set in Budapest. It’s an inventive, prophesying genre, and it has the potential to spread. It’s worth noting that the last two novels I reviewed, Peter Preston’s 51st State (1998) and Andrew Marr’s Head of State (2014), both accurately predicted Britain would leave the EU in a surprise referendum result. Marr repeated the prediction shortly before the vote.

Judging by their Twitter feeds, I’d guess that a majority of genre writers were in favour of staying in the EU, but the most vocal were the minority of writers who campaigned to leave. I’m thinking particularly of Frederick Forsyth, Tony Parsons and the incomparable Dreda Say Mitchell.

Most of the sensible Leave campaigners struck a conciliatory tone after the vote. I hope we can all agree that we are no less European. After all, the Norwegians and Swiss are every bit as European as the Germans and French, but there is no appetite in Norway or Switzerland to join the EU. Just as the Highland farmer doesn’t want the Westminster MP interfering in his life, ultimately the British people didn’t want to be governed from Brussels.

Final thought: I like to think that PD James would have been very happy with the result.


EU Referendum Thrillers: A Primer

June 5, 2016

As there is less than a month to go before the referendum in which the British people will decide whether the United Kingdom will leave or remain in the European Union, I thought it was high time I returned to the niche subject of Eurosceptic crime fiction.

The fear that British democracy is being subsumed into a centralised, undemocratic and corrupt EU has proved a fruitful subject for several thriller writers. Some of the Eurosceptic thrillers I have looked at on this blog include Andrew Roberts The Aachen Memorandum (1995) which presents a dystopian view of Britain in the year 2045, now a colony in the United States of Europe. For a contemporary setting read Michael Dobbs A Sentimental Traitor (2011) and Alan Judd’s Uncommon Enemy (2012), both are rattling good yarns with stiff upper lip British heroes battling sinister EU bureaucrats. For Euroscepticism outside of a British setting there is the Icelandic writer Hallur Hallson’s rather heavy-going Vulture’s Lair (2012), and Adam Lebor’s The Budapest Protocol (2009). Lebor’s work is particularly impressively as much of the novel is concerned with exposing the discrimination against the Romani or Roma people in Central and South-Eastern Europe which, I believe, counteracts the claim that Eurosceptics are a right-wing fringe.

Head of State

Recently I came across two entertaining works to add to my list, both written by authors who one would not naturally describe as Eurosceptic. First, we have Andrew Marr’s Head of State (2014). Marr’s novel was published a year before the general election in which the Conservative party was returned to government and the EU referendum became inevitable. The plot is rather prescient as events begin three days prior to an EU referendum. The ‘In’ campaign is heavily reliant on the Prime Minister’s personal appeal (sound familiar?) and not on his pre-vote renegotiation, a vague promise to establish a freer-market, which looks like a less regulated EU for the richer northern countries (although that sounds better than what David Cameron actually achieved). But when the Prime Minister suddenly dies, his Euro-fanatical aides hatch a scheme to keep this information from the public unless its derails the expected ‘In’ vote. What follows is utterly preposterous, and if I told you the cast of characters included impressionist Rory Bremner (no really) you can probably guess the shenanigans that ensue.

I described Head of State as entertaining, I didn’t say it was particularly good. It received scathing reviews, none of which I’d argue with. Marr credits Lord Chadlington with giving him the basic plot, and the Tory peer writes a foreword defending the ridiculous narrative ‘we should remember that much of what we take today as ‘normal’ political behaviour would have been considered unthinkable fifty – or even twenty – years ago. Today, almost anything seems politically possible.’ Fair enough, but I hardly think civil servants decapitating the Prime Minister’s corpse and then running around Downing Street with body parts is very likely.

Peter Preston’s 51st State was published in 1998 and is a futuristic satire which possesses remarkable foresight. When Preston was writing, the big debate in UK politics was whether Britain should join the Single Currency51st State begins with Brexit: a late intervention by the mild-mannered Tory Leader of the House of Commons Rupert Warner (think Michael Gove) unexpectedly sways the country into voting to leave the EU. The suddenly popular Warner find himself elevated to the role of Prime Minister (think Boris), and Britain needs to rethink its place in the world, and its future. Warner is persuaded by his ambitious colleague Polly Gurley to join a political union with the United States, and Britain becomes the titular 51st State in the world’s only remaining superpower.

51st State is a better novel than Marr’s Head of State, with Preston more self-aware of the absurdities of the plot and producing better satire as a result. Neither writer shows much enthusiasm for the European Union (the Europhile Utopian-tinged views of Edward Heath and Tony Blair disappeared years ago) however, if I was to guess their personal views, they seem glumly resigned to Britain staying in the EU as the best of a collection of bad options.

Having studied Eurosceptic thrillers for a few years now, and reading many views from the other side of the debate, I can’t just resign myself to voting Remain in the knowledge that the EU is becoming more and more unaccountable, bureaucratic and arrogant with power.

I respect Marr and Preston as writers, but I’ll be voting Leave, and long live the Eurosceptic thriller!

51st State

Adapting le Carre: The Case for Our Game

May 18, 2016

I must admit I’ve been feeling some withdrawal symptons after the excellent TV adaptation of John le Carré’s The Night Manager finished. le Carré’s novel of former hotel manager turned undercover spy Jonathan Pine’s mission to infiltrate an arms dealers’ entourage and bring Richard ‘the worst man in the world’ Roper to justice gripped me from beginning to end, and it made riveting viewing onscreen. In the US The Night Manager can currently be seen on AMC.

The Night Manager got me thinking about which other of le Carrè novels deserve to be adapted to film or television. Fourteen of le Carrè’s novels have so far been adapted for the small and silver screen, ranging from the Good (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), the Bad (A Perfect Spy), and the Ugly (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — film, not TV, version).

Hugh Laurie recently claimed that The Night Manager’s strength lay in the fact that it was the first novel le Carré published after the end of the Cold War, and as such it still managed to retain the hauntingly powerful resonance of his previous novels which had all been set in the ideological conflict between East and West: the longest and most complicated espionage duel the world had ever seen.

Alas, I don’t think the same power could be attributed to all of le Carré’s post- Cold War novels. Single and Single (1999) is dour and uninvolving. Absolute Friends (2003) veers dangerously close to anti-American bigotry. Both would make dull films. Of the Cold War novels yet to be adapted, I would love to see The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) onscreen, partly because it is a gripping, action-packed tale in which le Carré sketches some vivid portrayals of South East Asia and also because it features his most famous character — George Smiley. However, there are some obstacles to overcome from page to screen. The plot is fiendishly complex and would be difficult for a screenwriter to render concisely, and The Honourable Schoolboy is also the middle book of the Smiley Versus Karla trilogy, making the back-story an issue for the uninitiated viewer.

The 1995 novel Our Game, I believe, is a stronger candidate for adaptation. The plot develops from a relatively simple premise. Retired spy Tim Cranmer is visited by two police detectives one evening who grill him about the disappearance of his friend Larry Pettifer. Pettifer was Cranmer’s protégé in British intelligence, but they both seemingly left the world of espionage to pursue a more peaceful life. Recalled to London by his former spymasters, Cranmer learns that Pettifer has swindled the Russian government out of a small fortune. Pettifer’s motive is the conduit through which le Carré explores themes such as the nature of belief. Cranmer has typically British views: a dislike for ideology, a predilection to compromise and a belief in his country that is tempered by an understanding of its corruption. Despite the Christian symbolism of his name, Cranmer has no firm religious views:

I am not a God man, though I believe society is better for Him than without Him. I do not reject Him as Larry does, and then go scurrying after Him to apologise. But I do not accept Him either.

But if Cranmer can appreciate the status of the Church of England while never believing in its dogma, as Roger Scruton put it, ‘my tribal religion, the religion of the English who don’t believe a word of it’, then Pettifer, by contrast, is dashing idealism all the way. His undercover work put him in touch with the oppressed Ingush people of the Caucasus. Moved by their historical plight at the hands of the Tsarists, communists and finally the Russian Federation, Pettifer’s fraud was initiated to help the Ingush in their struggle for independence. The relationship between Cranmer and Pettifer is complicated further as Cranmer’s young mistress Emma has run off with his former friend. Should Cranmer try to rescue Pettifer from his folly or leave him to be hunted down by vengeful Russians? While le Carré never works up nailbiting suspense in  Our Game he nevertheless crafted a compelling and absorbing novel. The title refers to both the tradecraft of espionage and also ‘the annual festival of Winchester Football, a game so arcane  that even experienced players may not know all the rules.’ Cranmer and Pettifer both attended an elitist private school as children, and after the titular football game, Cranmer has to thrash New Boy Pettifer who found himself on the losing side. Pettifer refuses to comply with any of Cranmer’s demands that would allow him to give a softer beating:

‘Why didn’t you sing?’ I ask him, later that night as he bends over the same table.

‘It’s against my religion. I’m a Jew.’

‘No, you’re not. You’re father’s in the Church.’

‘I’ve converted.’

‘I’ll give you one chance,’ I say expansively. ‘What is the Notion for Winchester Football?’ It is the easiest test I can think of in the entire school vernacular, a gift.

‘Jew-baiting,’ he replies.

So I have no alternative but to beat him, when all he needed to say was Our Game.

In his recent writing le Carré seems to be at his best when he is imitating other writers. The Tailor of Panama (1996) is a tribute to Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana (1958) with its Foreign Office Englishman abroad theme. The Night Manager has a Bondian romantic adventure feel to it (le Carré would be loathe to admit it but the TV adaptation only confirmed the Fleming undertones of the story in my mind). Our Game has a Kiplingesque fascination and reverence for Ingushetia and its people, and this is what makes the narrative so powerful. Through imitation, le Carré has demonstrated that he is at his best when his authorial voice doesn’t swamp the text. Our Game’s complex, non-chronological structure would certainly be a challenge for the screen, but with two fine actors, the duel between Cranmer and Pettifer would be electrifying. Cranmer and Pettifer are, in effect, two sides of le Carré’s character. Cranmer is the Smiley-figure resigned to his fallen world and Pettifer is the young radical le Carré seems to regret he never became. In this tension between them, one voice never drowns out the other.




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