book review – The Human Factor


There is a something about Graham Greene that can best be described as a voice. Every book of his I have so far come across has the same rhythm and gives off a sense of having been written with confidence.

This book starts with you under the impression that it might well be a humorous reaction to the world of Ian Fleming and glamorous spies as it focuses on a couple of men working in an African sub-section of the Foreign Office.

But the humour evaporates as a leak is discovered in the department and the finger of suspicion points not at the older man Castle but at his younger frustrated and bored colleague Davis.

The jokes about glamour and Bond are a clever counterpoint to the bungling class based decisions that are taken to eradicate Davis and then play further games to smoke out the real leak.

But this is against a background of the cold war defections that gained headlines and embarrassed the establishment. Castle is playing for high stakes and fails to understand that principles are not honoured in this war of information. In the end he loses all that really matters to him, his wife and adopted son, and without his protection the world they live in looks bleak in the extreme.

As the wheels of government, class and espionage turn in between the cogs are the normal men and women who are victims. Some like Castle believe that there are higher principles at play here but in reality it is a rather pathetic game of trying to trump the opposition.

Defectors are pawns in a game they don’t really understand and operating in a system that despite relying so much on people has no understanding or place for the human factor.

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