Agent Running Through Fields of Wheat?

“You know what Trump is?’

‘Tell me.’

‘He’s Putin’s shithouse cleaner.’

Which is as good a place as any to begin with John Le Carrè’s latest work, Agent Running in the Field. Rumoured to have angered his former employers, (according to one very put out spook at the Cliveden Literary Festival at least)

Mr Le Carrè’s somewhat classy retort in The Times was enough to generate some publicity for what is certainly a lower key release than 2018’s Legacy of Spies (which even got a session at the London’s Royal Festival Hall beamed to cinemas over the UK).

This was supposed to be his Brexit rant – his anti-Trump, reactionary wail of despair at UK national suicide, the world gone mad, manipulated by the kleptocratic, Tsarist spook-in-chief in Moscow. This was supposed to be his deconstruction of the British state and it’s Cambridge Analytica-altered, Putin fiddled with, Big Red Bus of Deceitful Propaganda opus. Hell, even the title sounds like a riff on our former Prime Minister’s childhood agricultural misdemeanours. And, at least in the character of Ed, the novel does reflect those emotions.

“It is my considered opinion that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the Us is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none.”

This, in fairness, is hardly an equivocal position. But, nor is it a radical stance so far out with the opinions of many of the people watching Brexit unfold and, in comparison to – say 2003’s Absolute Friends – this is a quiet and measured response.

And, really, that is my take away from the novel. It is a small story in a way that the absolute first rate Le Carrè pieces aren’t. The character of Ed is a graceless and, as a narrator in one of his novels might say, seems to have elevated gracelessness to an art form. Nat is an unreliable narrator, the seemingly happy marriage undermined by what everyone else sees in him apparently, although the influence of this on the plot seems slim.

Overall, it’s always better to read Le Carrè than others. There are the usual damning characterisations, the usual pithy descriptions and he does physical nuance just about better than anyone but, here, the plotting lacks surprises and the ending fails to pack the sort of punch that even a relatively minor novel of his latter period, Our Kind of Traitor or A Most Wanted Man for example, manage to produceAgent Running.

A Law Firm in the Way Dr Pepper is a Doctor

“For Brutus is an honourable man” Julius Caesar, Act III, Sc II
As most of you know, I like to keep things positive online but recently I’ve encountered a company which makes that impossible. Welcome then to Nero Legal.
Interesting choice of branding, that. Naming your business after a man for whom family relations were on the Russian roulette side of stability and who specialised in running roughshod over common decency and justice all the while claiming it was acceptable because Nero wrote the laws. Not your usual corporate role model.
And Nero Legal appear not to have a conventional set up either. There appears to be one lawyer, he is also a director, and an army of paralegals.
There was another director, but he’s resigned and now seems to spend his days enjoying the attractions of Andorra so is, presumably, not much involved in day to day affairs.
So, in the good old spirit of the ancient Romans their name invokes there’s one man at the top.
Now, to be clear, I am not calling Nero Legal negligent. Negligence is a very specific legal term which implies “conduct which falls below the standard required to protect others against unreasonable risk of harm” and, god knows, I am no lawyer – which interestingly puts me in the same category as most of Nero Legal’s staff.
To cap a long story, we are selling a house. The buyer is using Nero Legal. To see what this poor couple are going through has alerted us to the fact that I would rather entrust my medical care to Dr Pepper than my legal affairs to Nero Legal.
Did I enjoy filling out the endless forms which make up modern house selling in Scotland? I did not but it’s standard. Did I enjoy then having to answer the same questions – or a sizeable chunk of them anyway – 6 weeks later in a clearly pro-forma letter? I *really* did not. Now, I’m not saying that this negligence or even gross unprofessionalism because I’m not a lawyer. Which, lest we forget, puts me in the same category as most of Nero Legal’s staff.
Did I enjoy the same paralegal who was doling out non-sensical pro-forma letters not responding to calls and emails from our solicitors? I did not. When they asked for a completion date which was very soon we were thrilled – when they discovered it was on a bank holiday (a bank holiday only in Glasgow incidentally, where they are based) it was mildly irritating. But surely not negligent or gross misconduct. Although, I can’t really say that because, as I’ve mentioned, I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
When this same paralegal told us that the buyers couldn’t complete on the next date, this was vexing – but these things happen and Nero Legal has actually answered an email so we were feeling positive. When the new completion date was a full month later that rang alarm bells but, you know what, what do I know? I’m not a lawyer- it turns out, exactly like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
When neither we, nor our solicitors, had heard anything – other than another set of questions we’d already answered, naturally – I think we were becoming pretty close to as downheartened as understatement will allow.
When Nero Legal only deign to let your solicitors know at 11.30 on the morning of your new, month later completion date that they still can not complete – as you are moving furniture Out. Of. Your. House, it may feel like gross negligence and professional misconduct but, remember I’m not saying that, because I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
When it then turns out that the buyers can’t complete because Nero Legal are not approved receivers of funds from the mortgage company, one might be positively alarmed and feel like this is information any real company should have been in possession of before the third completion date.
In fact, to not let their clients know that might well feel exactly like gross negligence and professional misconduct but, I’m couldn’t possibly say that, because I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
What I do know is that filling your social media feeds with paralegals channeling the Robert Palmer girls from the “Addicted to Love” video, claiming to support good mental health is not as efficient to generating actual good mental health as doing the tasks you are being paid for.
I’m sure that having that army of paralegals be jaw-droppingly slack at responding to emails and telephone calls is sharply contrasted to the public projections of these social media channels which begs the question: what are they doing all day? Oh yeah, it appears the answer is cutting cakes and dressing up as giant bananas for “charity”.
When your solicitor phones them four times and, in the end, has to refuse to get off the line before he can talk to a solicitor who, by extension, must be their one and only director, who promises to get back by the end of the day and doesn’t, it will probably feel like gross negligence and professional misconduct but, it probably isn’t because I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
It seems, at least to the untrained eye, that having only one lawyer, who is also sole director might make for a lean and efficient enterprise but, I can tell you, it doesn’t feel like that.
However, perhaps he’s stretched too thin, the poor lamb, what with the other previous director, also of Aaen Peach, a legal firm based in the same offices of the same building with really some of the worst reviews, having now resigned. No wonder it works better to out source your legal work to unqualified paralegals with hit and miss spelling and a predilection for asking questions which have already been answered. Twice. But what do I know? I’m not a lawyer. Very much like most of Nero Legal’s staff.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use Nero Legal. I’m saying that you shouldn’t and you should also make sure that you’re buyers aren’t either: it might be the only way to protect your sale.