Something terrible seems to happen to David Cornwell (alias John Le Carré) every time he leaves England or, to be generous, every time he leaves northern or eastern Europe. Give him a drizzle-sodden English prep school, a gentleman’s club in London, a high table at Oxford, a windswept beach or a dripping forest ‘somewhere in Germany’, and he can make a show of things. What he must curb is his yearning for the exotic East, or for anything that doesn’t fit the prescribed European categories of the freezing Cold War. The Honourable Schoolboy, which relied so much on Hong Kong, was a failure partially mitigated by some doses of colonial British ambience. With The Little Drummer Girl, John Le Carré has finally found the point where he is quite definitely out of his depth.
If this novel were a film (and it reads like the result of a script conference with a greedy agent) it would be the sort of movie that one views only on aeroplanes. The characters are all either clichéd or impossible, the scenery banal, and the moral dilemmas bogus. There