In 2006, Celia Favréau, neé Harrison, and Henry Pelham had been a couple for a year in the morally complex world of intelligentsia, until four Islamic terrorists hijacked a plane on arrival at Flughafen airport in Vienna, and sent Celia's, Henry's, and other US embassy personnel's lives spinning out of control for the next six years. One hundred and twenty lives were lost in the incident, and it was always suspected that the terrorists had had a mole inside the embassy.
Six years later, Henry is still looking for answers to finally close the investigation. To that end, he interviews former personnel who played key roles during the Flughafen affair, and he ends up in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the town where Celia lives with her newfound family.
All the Old Knives has a consistent writing style throughout, very reminiscent of Le Carré’s: the story unfolds in an interview fashion alternating perspectives between Celia and Henry, the past and the present. I’m not an expert on Le Carré, far from it; in fact I have only read Our Kind of Traitor, and I have watched the films The Constant Gardener, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (I’m planning to correct that travesty before the end of the year), but the little I have read or watched on the films that follow his narrations very closely, match the style of All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer. It is certainly a flattering comparison since Le Carré is a master of the espionage genre.
All the Old Knives is a solid four until the end, which I thought was so ingenious that I felt tempted to give an extra half star just for it. When it ended I said, wow. It was that good of an ending. The novel isn’t predictable, though the reader finds out (sort of) who the mole was long before the end, but the interview imparts real-time plot development that complements the story rather well. The knowledge of the mole’s identity doesn’t spoil the unfolding of the story because there are other factors at play, namely a cat-and-mouse game among the people involved.
If you think you have read something like this, think again. You are in for a treat.