The Human Factor, by Graham Greene

Maurice Castle works for the British Secret Service, in a department that handles agents in Africa. Maurice is tired of the work, and is looking forward to retirement, but an apparent leak in the office resuls in a clandestine investigation. Maurice suspects that they are being checked up on and fears that suspicion is falling on his colleague Davis, who he tries to warn to be careful.

The book has a similar feel to Funeral In Berlin; the work of "spies" is not at all glamorous and doesn't feel like it's achieving anything. I suppose perhaps it really is like that if you work for the secret service. But unlike that book, I really enjoyed this one. One of the problems with "Funeral" was that I couldn't work out what was going on - everyone seemed to speak in riddles and yet understand each other, while it felt like it was going over my head. But although things here weren't laboriously spelled out, and although there was stuff that you had to work out for yourself, I didn't find this at all difficult.

Part of this was the quality of writing. It is so effortless and yet so good. And so condensed: the book isn't particularly long, but it feels like loads happens - somehow he manages to convey plot, character and atmosphere without needing pages and pages.

Another big plus was the reader: Tim Pigott-Smith, who did a fantastic job. He had a ton of different voices to cope with, with several English accents, as well as South African (the SA guy was really unpleasant) and Russian. In fact, for the first time, I felt like taking an audio sample and attaching it to the review.

The book had a fair amount of humour, especially I was laughing out loud at the guy who thought Maltesers were a sophisticated treat and so sent someone to buy some for him to take to a dinner party (can't remember exact quote but something like "he wants five pounds worth of Maltesers? Does he know how many that is?") - again this was partly the reading - the voices were just so comical.

It's gone back to the library now so I can't quote directly but early in the book Castle is described as someone "always prepared to account for his actions". Just a sentence, that's all it takes, and yet that really fits, and was consistent with Castle's character through the book. That's how it should be done, take note Robin Cook.

The ending of the book was fantastic - not at all tidily wrapped up, and quite bleak. It came as a bit of a surprise, because I hadn't realised how near the end I was: that's a way in which an audiobook differs from the printed version: there's not the same "tell-tale compression of the pages". Which is, in this case, a good thing.

I'd like to read this again and must make sure to take out this particular audiobook. I sent an email to Tim Pigott-Smith's website and had a reply saying that he's going to be doing The Confidential Agent and has also done The Honorary Consul, which I've had on audiobook but I don't remember who read it. I'll try and hold of The Confidential Agent from the library.

Completed : 09-Nov-2009 (audiobook)

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