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Old 02-17-2019, 07:04 PM   #46
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Sorry to be late to the party: I have been out all day and am just catching up.

Firstly, I'm so sorry to hear about your family member, Victoria. I do hope all goes well with her recovery from the surgery.

I certainly enjoyed reading this book and I think that le Carré writes well. Yes, he is angry about the evil things which are done, supposedly in our name - aren't we all? I certainly am.

Sadly, it says a great deal about what is and has been going on in the world to think that the death of an "illegal immigrant" (and how I hate that term) and her child wasn't big and bad enough to be the cause of the actions taken by Kit, Jeb and Toby.

I didn't get the feeling that Toby and Emily were going to end up dead. In describing the time leading up to Toby's beating, le Carré says:



in reference to a piece of sacking being put over his head. That doesn't suggest to me that he was about to be gunned down by whoever was coming for him with sirens wailing. The final sentence certainly suggests that several organisations might be coming for him at once.

Maybe I'm being too optimistic in thinking that Toby and Emily would survive. But the fact that le Carré doesn't end with a pile of corpses at least leaves the possibility that the decent man might live to fight another day.
Yes, I got the feeling that the beating was a warning - although there is the suggestion that the beating might have done some serious damage, possibly fatal.

Instead of a killing, I would have expected something like career destruction to sideline Toby. So much easier to arrange, as with Jeb.
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Old 02-17-2019, 07:10 PM   #47
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Actually, I meant to imply something different. The death of the woman and her child was not enough to have caused the actions by Quinn and Crispin and even Oakley. Kit and Toby at least were justified in what they were doing because they didn't know what had gone on till near enough to the end. I'm saying the dominoes never would have fallen that way in the first place and I am surprised they needed to have as much cover-up as they did and that they resorted to murder to keep it covered up. We hear some of the stories of what private "security" has done in the mid-east and it makes me wonder how this was any worse than that. It would have been much more plausible, for this atrocity, for Crispin or Quinn to explain it as an accident. Maybe with incentives to keep Jeb quiet. The "intelligence" they were getting was garbage and maybe they were more concerned about that getting out than anything but that wasn't really explained enough for me to think that was it.
I suppose that the issue was that it happened within a British controlled territory within western Europe, and as the result of a not-officially-sactioned operation. Otherwise, yes, it could have played out like Blackwater in Baghdad; although even in that case, there have been legal proceedings and convictions.
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Old 02-18-2019, 01:29 AM   #48
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I want to take a step or three back. I have just reread the first chapter, and I can’t agree that Paul is a buffoon. He is of course unsure of what is going on, and that’s what he is meant to be. But he is sharp enough to read people well. When he meets Quinn, he compares him with the person in a painting in the room, thinking they share “the pout of privileged discontent”.

When he is meeting Elliot, he asks a question “...playing the innocent because that’swhat Elliot seems to like best”.

He will not be bulldozed into agreeing that Jeb and his men should go in: “Nothing I’ve seen or heard warrants going in at this stage”.

So on a reread, where I knew what comes later rather than being confused by all the smokescreens Crispin created for everyone, I read Paul as being absolutely the same person as Kit, trying to do the right thing, but operating very much in the dark.
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Old 02-18-2019, 07:45 AM   #49
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Buffoon is probably not the word I would have chosen, but the Paul Anderson we meet at the start was deliberately chosen as a low flyer (according to the book's own language), and I think the minor show of strength was a surprise to everyone, even himself. I saw it as an example of Paul taking his lead from the strongest person in the room with him, in this case Jeb.

The Kit we saw three years later was unrecognisable to me. Maybe it was a matter taking his lead from his wife, but the charisma and popularity he appeared to earn in that community seemed at odds with the character described as Paul. Had three years of basking in having done something good for his country, or maybe it was just the high flying job, really changed him that much? I didn't buy it. But even if I had ...

Jeb shows up and the confident persona evaporates. He knew Jeb for a few hours, three years ago. Now he's suddenly willing to believe everything Jeb tells him - even though it's contrary to everything Kit/Paul has been comfortable believing for the last 3 years. It was all too sudden, too easy.

Nor was I ever convinced that Paul/Kit was the sort of person that would sacrifice himself, and the reputation of the government he had worked for all his life, for a woman and child he didn't know and had never met. A career politician seems more likely to be questioning what she was doing there in the first place. Once Jeb was put out-of-the-way then we might argue he was doing it for Jeb, but we have the hump of Jeb's credibility to get over first.

To me it seemed as if the author gave Paul/Kit strength, and took it away again, just to satisfy the constraints of the story.
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Old 02-18-2019, 10:28 AM   #50
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I want to take a step or three back. I have just reread the first chapter, and I can’t agree that Paul is a buffoon. He is of course unsure of what is going on, and that’s what he is meant to be. But he is sharp enough to read people well.
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Buffoon is probably not the word I would have chosen, but the Paul Anderson we meet at the start was deliberately chosen as a low flyer (according to the book's own language), and I think the minor show of strength was a surprise to everyone, even himself. I saw it as an example of Paul taking his lead from the strongest person in the room with him, in this case Jeb.

The Kit we saw three years later was unrecognisable to me. Maybe it was a matter taking his lead from his wife, but the charisma and popularity he appeared to earn in that community seemed at odds with the character described as Paul. Had three years of basking in having done something good for his country, or maybe it was just the high flying job, really changed him that much? I didn't buy it. But even if I had ...

Jeb shows up and the confident persona evaporates. He knew Jeb for a few hours, three years ago. Now he's suddenly willing to believe everything Jeb tells him - even though it's contrary to everything Kit/Paul has been comfortable believing for the last 3 years. It was all too sudden, too easy.

Nor was I ever convinced that Paul/Kit was the sort of person that would sacrifice himself, and the reputation of the government he had worked for all his life, for a woman and child he didn't know and had never met. A career politician seems more likely to be questioning what she was doing there in the first place. Once Jeb was put out-of-the-way then we might argue he was doing it for Jeb, but we have the hump of Jeb's credibility to get over first.

To me it seemed as if the author gave Paul/Kit strength, and took it away again, just to satisfy the constraints of the story.
Emphasis mine, because I agree emphatically.

Paul struck me as a buffoon early, when he forgot to turn in his room key at the desk. And then his pride in coining the term "red telephone," Quinn must have been hard put to hide his laughter. A totally inert conduit and Paul was chuffed. Then, as gmw said, he took his cue from Jeb and pushed back, but he really had no effect at all and still thought it the finest moment of his career. (And thought he got an ambassadorship because of his merits, but now we're segueing into Kit territory.)

While I'm on Kit, I'd like to bring up Suzanna, who was a total enigma to me. I can't help thinking that her purpose in the book was emblematic and not actual. We never did find out her unspecified illness. She seemed to have had several near-death crises, lived in a state of fragility, needed to be heavily sedated to sleep, was constantly attended by emergency pills and an alarm. She seemed to me to symbolize the nations (UK and US), a conscience that either or both looked the other way or was ineffectual in its protests. She certainly didn't work for me as a real person.
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Old 02-18-2019, 01:22 PM   #51
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I want to take a step or three back. I have just reread the first chapter, and I can’t agree that Paul is a buffoon. He is of course unsure of what is going on, and that’s what he is meant to be. But he is sharp enough to read people well. When he meets Quinn, he compares him with the person in a painting in the room, thinking they share “the pout of privileged discontent”.

When he is meeting Elliot, he asks a question “...playing the innocent because that’swhat Elliot seems to like best”.

He will not be bulldozed into agreeing that Jeb and his men should go in: “Nothing I’ve seen or heard warrants going in at this stage”.

So on a reread, where I knew what comes later rather than being confused by all the smokescreens Crispin created for everyone, I read Paul as being absolutely the same person as Kit, trying to do the right thing, but operating very much in the dark.
I come down on this side of Paul / Kit, too. He was chosen for his complete lack of knowledge, to be a fallguy for Quinn. Quinn quizzed him heavily to confirm he’d never seen a drop of covert action. But he took his responsibility very seriously and backed up Jeb, when there wasn’t a positive identification. He stood up to Quinn several times. Quinn then demanded to speak with Jeb.

It was Jeb, an experienced military leader, who caved to Quinn, (and that did not seem credible to me). Kit’s faith in the process was certainly naive, but he excecuted his role faithfully. Due to lack of experience, I think he can be forgiven for thinking the operation was successful.

A more senior bureaucrat than Kit would know he should never meet alone with a Minister, without the prior knowledge and blessing of his boss. The reporting structure of bureaucratics is to the seniormost public servant, not their Ministers. The seniormost bureaucrat then reports directly to the Prime Minister. It’s how Prime Ministers maintain control over their Ministers.

So Kit was taken advantage of. But does it necessarily make him a chump? I didn’t think so.

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Old 02-18-2019, 01:39 PM   #52
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A more senior bureaucrat than Kit would know he should never meet alone with a Minister, without the prior knowledge and blessing of his boss. The reporting structure of bureaucratics is to the seniormost public servant, not their Ministers. The seniormost bureaucrat then reports directly to the Prime Minister. It’s how Prime Ministers maintain control over their Ministers.

So Kit was taken advantage of. But does it necessarily make him a chump? I didn’t think so.
This part I’m rethinking. I do think Kit’s actions on the hill were appropriate, and I wouldn’t call him a buffoon. But he should have know it was verboten to meet alone with Quinn or any Minister. I think maybe Le Carré was getting around that tricky bit of protocol by suggesting HR tricked him into thinking it was officially sanctioned. But it’s awkward, because anyone with Kit’s experience should know to double check with their own boss.

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Old 02-18-2019, 01:51 PM   #53
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While I'm on Kit, I'd like to bring up Suzanna, who was a total enigma to me. I can't help thinking that her purpose in the book was emblematic and not actual. We never did find out her unspecified illness. She seemed to have had several near-death crises, lived in a state of fragility, needed to be heavily sedated to sleep, was constantly attended by emergency pills and an alarm. She seemed to me to symbolize the nations (UK and US), a conscience that either or both looked the other way or was ineffectual in its protests. She certainly didn't work for me as a real person.
What an interesting idea! Perhaps Emily is Suzanna waking up and ready to act, with Le Carré leaving open the question of whether it’s in time to save the day.
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Old 02-18-2019, 05:41 PM   #54
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Victoria, that’s an interesting point about not meeting with a Minister without his boss’s blessing. Presumably Kit thought he had it because someone, we don’t know who, had recommended him when Quinn was wanting someone who wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.
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Old 02-18-2019, 05:50 PM   #55
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Issybird, I do like your idea of Suzanna’s being more of a symbol. However, she was also there as an ongoing worry for Kit, who clearly loved her very much, and wanted to resolve anything which caused her distress.

The enigmatic ending leaves us wondering whether Emily managed to get the images sent off before whatever was about to burst in on them did so. We just don’t know, and can only hope that she did.
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Old 02-19-2019, 06:42 AM   #56
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Issybird, I do like your idea of Suzanna’s being more of a symbol. However, she was also there as an ongoing worry for Kit, who clearly loved her very much, and wanted to resolve anything which caused her distress.
Even that could be symbolic, the love of one's country even if ill (or behaving badly :cough: ).

I do think le Carré wasn't above engaging in the occasional bit of metaphor. How many times were people going to dash across the rickety bridge marked, in caps, "DANGER"? I thought that might have been a shoutout to another novel set in Cornwall, My Cousin Rachel. Another novel with a nebulous ending, so I don't think it's too far-fetched at that.

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The enigmatic ending leaves us wondering whether Emily managed to get the images sent off before whatever was about to burst in on them did so. We just don’t know, and can only hope that she did.
And even if she did, how high did the rot go? I mentioned upthread that the recipient mattered. A Katharine Graham, who published Woodward and Bernstein, or a David Pecker, who suppressed the Trump payoffs? I'm quite sure that was part of le Carré's intent in leaving it open-ended. To what extent are the press independent truth tellers and to what extent are they part of the power structure? But then it leads to cries of "Fake news!" Irony on irony.

Sigh.
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Old 02-19-2019, 09:33 AM   #57
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I can accept Suzanna as a metaphor, but what exactly is Toby?

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His name was Toby Bell and he was entirely alone in his criminal contemplations. No evil genius controlled him, no paymaster, provocateur or sinister manipulator armed with an attaché case stuffed with hundred-dollar bills was waiting round the corner, no activist in a ski mask. He was in that sense the most feared creature of our contemporary world: a solitary decider. Of a forthcoming clandestine operation on the Crown Colony of Gibraltar he knew nothing: rather, it was this tantalizing ignorance that had brought him to his present pass.
I like "solitary decider". It begs the question: what right does Toby have to make the choices he was this early in the story? At least Quinn, for all that he is painted as a thoroughly dislikeable character, has some claim on authority.

At that point in the tale Toby had committed treason without much justification. He'd been spying on secret government meetings without permission and for no better reason than his boss had chosen to leave him out. Okay, so given Toby's position this did inspire suspicion, but is suspicion sufficient cause to break the law?

2013 was the year of Edward Snowden. This book was published in 2013, so the timing seems somewhat fortuitous to have published a book that skirts some of the same territory.

The right and wrong of Toby's situation this early in the story is interesting, although sadly not something that this book does a lot with. le Carré doesn't offer us any ambiguity, the bad guys are painted as all bad, and the screw up results in deaths of (apparently) truly innocent people. We're never left in any doubt that someone screwed up and the author wants us to accept that someone should be held accountable for the screw-up. But who and how much seem left deliberately vague.

Actually, I got the impression that Quinn was quietly and subtly held accountable and pushed off to the side. How much punishment was he due? How much punishment was applied to the mercenaries that pulled the trigger? The story gives us no way of knowing, but the behaviour was unprofessional (and not really credible). However, it was still a government sanctioned operation which seems to rule out a murder charge, so how much punishment would have been enough?

Eventually we get to all the crap with Jeb and Kit and Toby, but this is all after the questionable attempts of those three to do something more about an incident three years after the fact. I say "more" because actions probably were taken, just that neither we, nor those three characters, know what those actions were and that's not something the story seems to consider.

In addition to Toby's spying on Quinn, there are so many other interesting issues buried in here: the privatisation of national security; whether there was ever any reason for this to be a military operation; that Quinn may have sanctioned an extraordinary rendition to be carried out by American mercenaries on British soil; that British soldiers were discharged before being used for the operation. But all these things, even the deaths of the anonymous woman and child, get brushed aside as we hear about Jeb and Kit and Toby. And their actions seemed personally motivated rather than actually caring.

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Old 02-19-2019, 01:59 PM   #58
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At that point in the tale Toby had committed treason without much justification. He'd been spying on secret government meetings without permission and for no better reason than his boss had chosen to leave him out. Okay, so given Toby's position this did inspire suspicion, but is suspicion sufficient cause to break the law?
My memory of the timeline is a little shaky and the book has returned to the library so I can't check. Wasn't this after Giles set Toby on Quinn? Although once we find out more of Giles's backstory, I wonder that he'd want to rattle the cages at all (the decision he came to himself, eventually, but I think it would have been sooner).

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The right and wrong of Toby's situation this early in the story is interesting, although sadly not something that this book does a lot with. le Carré doesn't offer us any ambiguity, the bad guys are painted as all bad, and the screw up results in deaths of (apparently) truly innocent people. We're never left in any doubt that someone screwed up and the author wants us to accept that someone should be held accountable for the screw-up. But who and how much seem left deliberately vague.
The parallel irony just occurred to me in regard to Toby. I did snicker at the name "Ethical Outcomes" as it clearly implies unethical means, but that also applies to Toby. I think that was very well done by le Carré; I was just slow on the uptake. That's the big question; when do the ends justify the means? We root for Toby and against Crispin, but Crispin & Co. have the opposite take.

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Actually, I got the impression that Quinn was quietly and subtly held accountable and pushed off to the side. How much punishment was he due? How much punishment was applied to the mercenaries that pulled the trigger? The story gives us no way of knowing, but the behaviour was unprofessional (and not really credible). However, it was still a government sanctioned operation which seems to rule out a murder charge, so how much punishment would have been enough?
But Quinn had already screwed up and he still had a soft landing.

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Eventually we get to all the crap with Jeb and Kit and Toby, but this is all after the questionable attempts of those three to do something more about an incident three years after the fact. I say "more" because actions probably were taken, just that neither we, nor those three characters, know what those actions were and that's not something the story seems to consider.

In addition to Toby's spying on Quinn, there are so many other interesting issues buried in here: the privatisation of national security; whether there was ever any reason for this to be a military operation; that Quinn may have sanctioned an extraordinary rendition to be carried out by American mercenaries on British soil; that British soldiers were discharged before being used for the operation. But all these things, even the deaths of the anonymous woman and child, get brushed aside as we hear about Jeb and Kit and Toby. And their actions seemed personally motivated rather than actually caring.
I think it's the personal element that makes it interesting. There's nothing at all engaging about Crispin's machinations. It occurs to me that the flip side of the bad guys being all bad is that they were also much more polished. They recovered their fumbles quickly and handled them (and hence the three years until Toby and Kit were back in the UK). The three good guys screwed up, but again, that's human.
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Old 02-19-2019, 04:58 PM   #59
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Originally Posted by gmw View Post
I can accept Suzanna as a metaphor, but what exactly is Toby?

I like "solitary decider". It begs the question: what right does Toby have to make the choices he was this early in the story? At least Quinn, for all that he is painted as a thoroughly dislikeable character, has some claim on authority.

At that point in the tale Toby had committed treason without much justification. He'd been spying on secret government meetings without permission and for no better reason than his boss had chosen to leave him out. Okay, so given Toby's position this did inspire suspicion, but is suspicion sufficient cause to break the law?

Actually, I got the impression that Quinn was quietly and subtly held accountable and pushed off to the side. How much punishment was he due? How much punishment was applied to the mercenaries that pulled the trigger? The story gives us no way of knowing, but the behaviour was unprofessional (and not really credible). However, it was still a government sanctioned operation which seems to rule out a murder charge, so how much punishment would have been enough?

In addition to Toby's spying on Quinn, there are so many other interesting issues buried in here: the privatisation of national security; whether there was ever any reason for this to be a military operation; that Quinn may have sanctioned an extraordinary rendition to be carried out by American mercenaries on British soil; that British soldiers were discharged before being used for the operation. But all these things, even the deaths of the anonymous woman and child, get brushed aside as we hear about Jeb and Kit and Toby. And their actions seemed personally motivated rather than actually caring.
Wow - we’re almost polar opposites in how we rate the characters I thought Toby was supposed to be the hero and the actual reason for the story, while Quinn was the crook.

I understood Quinn and his unnamed cohorts, as acting entirely outside the knowledge of government. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a reason for the measures Quinn took to keep it secret; after hours, no cameras, paid off guards, Paul briefed off site by Elloit, etc.

Britain conducts covert measures everyday, and would have a mix of public servants and political staff already read into the operations. They’d have established procedures, and wouldn’t need the measures Quinn was using. And the use of private contractors wasn’t illegal or unusual - they were linked in through normal channels via Ministerial procurement.

We’re told that Quinn had already pulled a financial stunt with Crispin when he was at Defense. But his party decided that he was new to government, and wasn’t well briefed by Defense procurement staff. So Quinn was yanked out of Defense and given a second chance at Foreign Service.

Toby, being young, and unaware of Quinn’s previous scrape, was part of Quinn’s second chance. But Toby was told by his boss (the regional director) to make sure Quinn didn’t step in any mud.

I thought Quinn excluded Toby from the meeting because he knew Toby would have reported the meeting to his boss, and the info would have gone up the official chain of command.

I didn’t think Toby was motivated by personal reasons. He witnessed Qunn’s unsectioned actions. Toby had been told that Crispin was banned from Whitehall and would have no more contracts, yet Quinn was still working with him. Toby also witnessed Quinn use his diplomatic travels to run side deals. Toby received complaints about Quinn from colleages of other countries.

Also, Quinn had complete contempt for all things goverment. Towards the end, he installed his own phone line, his own safe, used a non-government lawyer, outside curriers, managed his own mail so there wasn’t a log of it, or even use government vehicles. Toby, as a good public servant, was alarmed, as were all the staff who reported to Toby.

Finally, when Toby confided in Oakley, Oakley confirmed they’d become aware of Quinn’s side deals, and were watching him. Oakely asked Toby to alert him via text if more occured.

An argument absolutely in favour of your interpretation and against mine, is that Jeb and his men were definitely ‘assigned’ to the operation, even if it was off the books.

As you say, tape-recording Quinn was absolutely illegal. His supposed reason was that he didn’t want to expose the colleagues who had confided in him. (Pretty thin)

Ultimately, everything goes south. In the last chapter, one of the documents Oakley drops off is the government’s internal inquiry. I assumed Quinn had been forced to resign, but Whitehall wanted to keep everything secret.

I thought Toby being a ‘solitary decider’ was his unwillingness to play along. He wanted to expose everything, including the unreliability of using private defense contractors.

I’m learning that different interruptions is what makes a book club interesting!

But was it also by design? It’s my first book by Le Carré, and it seemed very disjointed. I finally had to keep notes, because things would seem one way, and chapters later Le Carré would offer a completely different explanation.

I also felt that we were asked to swallow a lot. Having Toby break the law by recording Quinn seems absurd when all he had to do was call up his boss and report Quinn’s behaviour. I decided that Le Carré was telling a fable or parable, so having it hang together logically wasn’t important to him.

However, your observations about 2013 and Edward Snowden are really interesting. The book is certainly riddled with moral ambiguity.

Last edited by Victoria; 02-19-2019 at 05:03 PM. Reason: Fixed tag.
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Old 02-19-2019, 05:15 PM   #60
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Originally Posted by issybird;3812647The parallel irony just occurred to me in regard to Toby. I did snicker at the name "Ethical Outcomes" as it clearly implies unethical means, but that also applies to Toby. I think that was very well done by le Carré; I was just slow on the uptake. That's the big question; when [I
do[/I] the ends justify the means? We root for Toby and against Crispin, but Crispin & Co. have the opposite take..
Yes, an example of that occurs when Toby met with Crispin at his office. Toby raised the woman and child’s death as unacceptable collateral damage. Crispin agrees it’s a tragedy. He then turns the moral tables by talking about the greater scale of human suffering when the insurgents unleash their rockets and heavy fire. It’s hard to argue against his point.

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