The Tailor of Panama

The Tailor of Panama Chance Favors The Prepared Mind PascalNot a suspense espionage in the regular le Carr mode, but a satire of same, and an expansive, elaborate novel at that Since the demise of the Cold War this author has been casting around for another conflict to narrate, and I m not sure le Carr has ever allowed himself to be this carried away by his characters and their dramatic entanglements That being said, there is an enormous asterisk here The story of a bourgeois merchant class civilian who is recruited mistakenly for espionage purposes and sees his way clear to invent the espionage because the money is so good has already been covered, and really well at that Graham Greene s Our Man In Havana did all that, and le Carr follows with a remixed version here, an homage to the original And says so on his Acknowledgements page.You get all the spy novel twists the uncomfortable domestic family, friends, mistress arrangements, the deceptive moves amongst the colleagues, false alibis, tails, cut outs, dead drops and also the secondary layer whereby it s all a fiction anyway After a lifetime as the most recognized spymaster in the business, Mr le Carr seems to have read Mr Greene, read deeply and laughed long and I think he just couldn t help himself Hints are dropped throughout that this one acknowledges it s parentage, even down to stray details like buying the pony for the daughter, mirrored exactly in the Havana original.What makes this a uncommonly good read, then, is not only that le Carr has left off the serious hat and gone for the humorously coincidental, but that it leads him to really lively and visceral prose, not always evident in the dank corridors of the coldwar epics To arrive in his little side street is for Harry Pendel a coming into harbour every time On some days he may tease himself with the notion that the shop has vanished, been stolen, wiped out by a bomb Or it was never there in the first place, it was one of his fantasies, something put in his imagination by his late Uncle Benny But today his visit to the bank has unsettled him, and his eye hunts out the shop and fixes on it the moment he enters the shadow of the tall trees You re a real house, he tells the rusty pink Spanish roof tiles winking at him through the foliage You re not a shop at all You re the kind of house an orphan dreams of all his life If only Uncle Benny could see you now Notice the flower strewn porch there, Pendel asks Benny with a nudge, inviting you to come inside where it s nice and cool and you ll be looked after like a pasha Harry boy, it s the maximum, Uncle Benny implies, touching the brim of his black homburg hat with both his palms at once, which was what he did when he had something cooking A shop like that, you can charge a pound for coming through the door And the painted sign, Benny PB scrolled together in a crest, which is what gives the shop its name up and down the town, whether you re in the Club Uni n or the Legislative Assembly or the Palace Of Herons itself Been to PB lately There goes old so and so in his PB suit That s the way they talk round here, Benny I ve said it before, Harry boy, I ll say it agin You ve got the fluence You ve got the rock of eye Who gave it you I ll always wonder His courage near enough restored Harry Pendel mounts the steps to start his working day. For much of the book things swirl along like this, with a kind of Walter Mitty of unintentional spies doing the narrating Fearlessly le Carr plunges into the plot and it s cluster verse of interconnections, making it feel both inevitable and wildly improvisatory at once As with many inadvisable schoolboy fancies, and even so those in midlife that gamble fortune and stability, things end not so well Eventually the lighthearted and fanciful Harry Pendel is cornered, and driven to the distasteful side of spycraft, as much by realities as by creations of his own imagination, and the whole scheme goes squirrelly The scheme itself, called Buchan in the secret papers and it s participants Buchaneers is clearly another in the line of references le Carr is willing to entertain for humor s sake Interestingly, le Carr isn t done with homages, though, and invokes the enveloping desperation of Lowry s Under The Volcano, another tale of expatriate self delusion and its discontents The scenes of Harry walking alone through the Panamanian religious festival at the end, under hails of fireworks and under his own yoke of guilt, evoke that same conflict, cross cultural setting intact Pendel was walking, and people in white were walking beside him, leading him to the gallows He was pleasantly surprised to find himself so reconciled to death He had never doubted that Panama had angels per acre, white crinolines and flowered headdresses, perfect shoulders, cooking smells, music, dancing, laughter, drunks, malign policemen and lethal fireworks than any comparable paradise twenty times its size, and here they were assembled to escort him And he was very gratified to discover bands playing, and competing folk dance teams, with gangly, romantic eyed black men in cricket blazers and white shoes and flat hands that lovingly moulded the air round their partners gyrating haunches And to see that the double doors of the church were pulled open to give the Holy Virgin a grandstand view of the bacchanalia outside, whether She wanted it or not He was walking slowly, as condemned men will, keeping to the centre of the street and smilingFinally, too direct to be a coincidence, that spectral Uncle Benny that keeps advising Harry from the Other Side is familiar too Himself a con man who s been responsible early in Harry s life for a few mishaps, Uncle Ben is the seasoned flim flammer whose advice Harry cherishes in his dodgy spy endeavors A character from another, long ago tragedy of the merchant class, this ghost was also named Uncle Ben, a raconteur that advised protagonist Willy Loman, in Death Of A Salesman, another ill fated dreamer Not sure what le Carr was up to with all of this, and not sure he was after hooking in old lit majors to find the references, but they are there On a technical level this book is really brilliantly written the structural complexity at hand is no match for Mr le Carr s craft execution I am knocked out by the concision, the considerable expertise at large ensemble cast writing.But in the end this is a practice piece, an excercise for le Carr He has dressed this design in an amazing skin and cloak of colors, but the bones will always belong to Graham Greene. At the end of The Tailor Of Panama John Le Carr acknowledges his debt to a previous work that presented a similar theme, Graham Greene s Our Man In Havana Both books are about the oxymoron that we call intelligence, so often self contradictory because the label is only useful when there s a lack of it Such gaps need to be filled, and when we don t have sufficient material it might be necessary to invent a little, just to keep everyone happy And such is the plot of The Tailor Of Panama, who constructs his own reality, tailors his own design to ensure his paymasters get what they want The irony of the situation lies, of course, in the fact that intelligence is most useful in those areas where those who desire it possess the least knowledge, thus opening up multiple avenues for fabrication without fear of contradiction.In The Tailor Of Panama John Le Carr places Harry Pendel at the centre of the action He is the tailor of the title, a crafter of quality bespoke outer garments, whose customers include some of the wealthiest and politically most significant actors in Panamanian society The idea that floats in and out of the plot is the possibility, surely only ever imagined, that on expiry of the Canal Treaty a Southern Eastern initiative will seek to construct a new canal to undercut the original by reducing transit times The strategic interest that the original canal represented would, of course, accrue to the new grouping And it is this aspect that certain intelligence circles cannot stomach.It falls to one Andrew Osnard, a rather overweight English slob, to investigate, to commission and to gather intelligence on the matter At the outset, Osnard calls on Pendel, ostensibly in seek of some expensive suits, but there is recruitment in the air Quite why it would be the British rather than their American masters who would be involved is one of the book s less convincing angles, but then part of the novel s raison d etre is to portray such potentially serious activity as riddled with actual farce The problem eventually is that the farce can turn serious at any point, and not only for those directly involved.The specific problem for Harry Pendel, British tailor, formerly of Savile Row, London, is that, despite his prowess with the cloth, thread and scissor, he is a man with form of another kind He also needs the dosh, having entered a deal or two beyond his means and found himself out of a pocket he did not stitch He is well connected, not only via his own elite customers, but also by virtue of his wife s connections courtesy of her employer Even his assistant has a bone to pick with her country s political past, and she still bears the scars of previous activity Thus Pendel becomes a chosen one, a member of a select team that simply has to deliver.A review of The Tailor Of Panama should not divulge any detail of the book s plot since, despite John Le Carr s often beautiful characterisation and description, it s what happens within these pages that is eventually important Suffice it so say that, of course, not everything turns out as the reader, or even the protagonists might have expected But then, after all, if we did have the knowledge we needed to predict, we would not need to seek out intelligence to fill the gaps.The Tailor Of Panama is perhaps a tad over long, and at least some of the diversions seem rather artificial But surely in the real world, if anything in today s surveillance society remains under documented, there still exists the need for those in power to embroider, to decorate for public consumption, to add justification s weight to flimsy evidence It s not only novelists who make things up. Le Carr S Panama The Young Country Of Million Souls Which, On December Will Gain Full Control Of The Panama Canal Is A Casablanca Without Heroes, A Hotbed Of Drugs, Laundered Money And CorruptionSeldom Has The Weight Of Global Politics Descended So Heavily On Such A Tiny And Unprepared Nation And Seldom Has The Hidden Eye Of British Intelligence Selected Such An Unlikely Champion As Harry Pendel A Charmer, A Dreamer, An Evader, A Fabulist And Presiding Genius Of The House Of Pendel Braithwaite Co Limitada, Tailors To Royalty, Formerly Of London And Presently Of Panama CityYet There Is A Logic To The Spies Choice Everybody Who Is Anybody In Central America Passes Through Pendel S Doors He Dresses Politicos And Crooks And Conmen His Fitting Room Hears Confidences Than A Priest S Confessional And When Harry Pendel Doesn T Hear Things As Such Well, He Hears Them Anyway, By Other MeansFor What Is A Tailor For, If Not To Disduise Reality With Appearance What Is Truth If Not The Plaything Of The Artist And What Are Spies And Politicians And Journalists If Not Themselves Selectors And Manipulators Of The Truth For Their Own Ends In A Thrilling, Hilarious Novel, Le Carr Has Provided Us With A Satire About The Fate Of Truth In Modern Times Once Again, He Has Effortlessly Expanded The Borders Of The Spy Story To Bring Us A Magnificent Entertainment Straight Out Of The Pages Of Tomorrow S HistoryHN LE CARR Was Born In After Attending The Universities Of Bern And Oxford, He Taught At Eton And Spent Five Years In The British Foreign Service His Third Novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Secured Him A Worldwide Reputation, Which Was Solidified By The Acclaim For His Trilogy, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy And Smiley S People His Mostly Autobiographical Novel, A Perfect Spy, Wa Followed By The Russia House, The Night Manager And Our Game The Tailor Of Panama Is His Sixteenth NovelJohn Le Carr Lives In Cornwall, England Perhaps it was just me, and my distracted circumstances while reading this book, but I found it to be dull and rather a slog Somehow I forced myself to finish it, imagining that it had to get better It did not. Let s just say that I m very glad that John le Carre is a man who likes to tell stories I will be scouring used book stores for of his work now that I ve been introduced to his witty and intelligent writing style I prefer vintage dust jackets I think they look great on my bookshelves I picture le Carre as a lapels turned up sort of guy a guy that can hail a cab with a mere wave of his hand Yeah, I ve found a new favorite author I loved the mix of characters, some I liked and others I despised From cover to cover, this story delivers plenty of intrigue set against an exotic setting, which is also very convincing I d say that le Carre did his research It s a bit cheeky too, which appealed to me. I picked up The Tailor of Panama because I had been overwhelmed and bowled over by the awesomeness of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Half Price Books did not have a copy of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold I read TTSS on the plane from Europe, and the plot reached out to me and entangled me in its roots I was fitfully half asleep, thinking and dreaming of the Spy The Great Game The Mole KARLA Petrov and that is when you know a book is good.The Tailor of Panama was the exact opposite experience, unfortunately The book s protagonist I suppose he s a protagonist is Harry Pendel, a sometimes tailor with a shady past British spy Andrew Osnard comes all the way from Whitehall to Panama to personally recruit Harry Pendel to spy for the Brits in light of Panama s upcoming transition to independence I think what I disliked the most about the book was that, given that Osnard clearly knows Pendel s a crazed liar, that he never even questions the validity of Pendel s stories Since that s the hinge upon which the novel swings Pendel feeding half baked stories and lies, sometimes truths to the Brits and it s not to be believed that Osnard never questions the material, it falls completely flat on its face The novel has some smatterings of bright points when it delves into the inner workings of the British bureaucracy, and there were some relatively amusing lines, but that was all John le Carr s premise of a mad tailor stitching together truth and lies into something much larger than himself was clever, but the execution and his own stitching together of this novel was poor Neither Harry nor Andrew are particuarly interesting characters it s the women, Louisa and Marta who actually are able to steal the show if there was a show at all. I recently watched mark Lawson s BBC4 interview with Le Carre and this book was referenced by the writer as one of his favourites What is interesting in this book is Le Carre s ability to develop an initially comic situation within a few chapters into a story about vanity and greed It demonstrates how a lie develops through the wishes of the intelligence service and media interests into the premise for an invasion The story itself pitches a newly appointed spy sent to Panama , Andy Osnard, into an opportunity to build his reputation and line his pockets by blackmailing a tailor, Harry Pendel, into divulging secrets Pendel is tailor to the president, the American army general on their base in Panama, and he knows friends who have been victim of torture by the countries brutal regime in earlier days of revolt The twist comes in what Harry does, how Osnard reacts and consequently how Britain sees this as a new area of influence post cold war It is a very clever book which as it progresses sees you move from the comic to a poignant reflection on intimate betrayals and the effects of powerplay Le Carre moves from the espionage of the cold war into the politics and corruption of money, media and countries scrabbling around to maintain their position as a world player, so the story of the growing Panama crisis is prescient of crises that will come dominate the early 2000 s A brilliant writer who is deserving of literary plaudits than some of the tosh that wins the major awards. Yet another Le Carre novel that knocks the spots off so many others I pick up in the average year, borne by the relentless characterisations that gradually shake off the disbelief and draw you in completely to the story being told What begins as a not very credible collection of near comic caricatures grows into some sort of reality while allowing the plot to strain at the limits of believability, anchored by the thoughts and actions of the principle protagonists I didn t warm to the Tailor that much, the East End boy turning ripe by the Panama Canal, nor the Bond ish, shady spy master, Onsard, but they glued the whole thing together and made the book what it was Around them whirled the plot, the minor players, the Old School Ties, the inept, the innocent and the damned, dancing to a tune that sounds as if it shouldn t hold together, but does If I can be a bit pretentious, Le Carre writes jazz whereas so many others are penning jingles for laxative advertisements. This book had me in stitches Yes, le Carre can be very funny Aside from this book being hilarious I was caught by the story and wanted to finish it quickly I also enjoyed the way how le Carre employed spycraft in this story.If you need a thrilling humour break, give this story a go. Between February 2017 and September 2017 I read the entire George Smiley series Having reached the end of the series, I was left wondering about John le Carr s life and work, and whether to read other books by him, and so I read John le Carr The Biography by Adam Sisman in April 2018 John le Carr The Biography convinced me I should probably read everything John le Carr has ever written, and so it was I came to The Tailor Of Panama 1996 my first non Smiley JLC book It is very clever and darkly comic Harry Pendel is the titular tailor of Panama, ostensibly a quality bespoke tailor whose customers include some of the movers and shakers in Panamanian society Andrew Osnard, a Thatcherite intelligence operator, interested in getting rich quick than serving his country, recognises Pendel s potential as a spy and proceeds to blackmail him into taking the job Sadly, Pendel s intelligence is imagined than real and this is the springboard for a complex, insightful and meandering plot As always, beneath the beautiful descriptions of people, places, interactions and character, there is a darkly compelling narrative that shines a harsh and illuminating light on greed, opportunism, fear, expediency, modern geopolitics and stupidity How those in power seek to justify their actions and mistakes, and how Britain tries vainly to come to terms with its diminished global role in a post Imperial world Another JLC winner.4 5

John le Carr , the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England , is an English author of espionage novels Le Carr has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for than 40 years, where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land s End.See also

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  • Hardcover
  • 332 pages
  • The Tailor of Panama
  • John le Carré
  • English
  • 14 October 2018
  • 9780679454465

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