Saturday, 7 June 2014

Book Review: The Human Factor by Graham Greene....

Written more than forty years after "England Made Me", the last Graham Greene I reviewed here, The Human Factor returns to one of Greene's favourite themes in his canon of work, namely espionage. 

The story revolves around the personal and work life of Maurice Castle, an ageing and somewhat dull bureaucrat in the British Secret Service's African department. At home in leafy suburbia he tries to portray as normal a life as possible in order to not encourage enquiring eyes to look into the nature of his work. The thing that stands out, (in a much less racially integrated time in Britain,1978) is his black wife and child brought with him from apartheid South Africa some years before. But even this 'noticeable' factor about his life is not allowed to distract the outsider from the image of Castle as an entirely 'grey' man.

At work, an office with more in common with a city accountancy firm than anything one might find in a James Bond story, Castle spends his day shuffling paperwork alongside his colleague Davis, a more flamboyant younger man whom Castle likes in spite of their differences.

Their world is dragged into quietly pervading turmoil by rumours of a security breach. Castle finds himself having to re-evaluate his life and relationships with colleagues. When a dark figure from he and his wife's past re-emerges life becomes infinitely more complicated.

I thoroughly enjoyed this grey-skied, dismally dangerous, cold-war style espionage thriller. There are no torture scenes, no chases, no bikini-clad Russian women with dubiously innuendo-riddled names. But there is enough paranoia and tension to fill a psychiatrist's library.

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