“Do please come in and sit down, Mr le Carre,” said the young sub-editor, pulling out a chair. “It was good of you to pop in. May I call you ‘John’?”
He didn’t reply. Nervously, she sat down opposite the distinguished-looking, white haired man. She’d been warned about his legendary fiery temper, and offered him tea and a plate of freshly baked croissants from the Soho patisserie across the road in the hope of softening him up for what was not going to be a pleasant conversation. He took a chocolate one, eyeing both it and her suspiciously. She took a deep breath,
“It’s about the plot of your new novel. I think we should, er, have a chat…”
The steely eyes gave nothing away. For all she knew, the last time anyone had dared to criticize one of the spy-master’s masterpieces they’d ended up swinging from a bridge under the Thames with a poison dart lodged in their throat.
“The plot? Really?” the writer said, his voice betraying no emotion.
“Well,” said the young woman, swallowing her tea nervously. “It’s just that it’s kind of… loopy.” There. She’d said it.
“Loopy?” The famous novelist fixed her in his icy gaze.
“Yes,” said the sub-ed quickly. She may as well let it all out; get it over and done with. “And not only loopy, it’s illogical. From start to finish. The whole story is farcical. Readers won’t buy it. Literally. Let’s start with the basic premise. Why would the CIA be backing the Greens? When half of them, it would seem, are rampant anti-semites and the rest are KGB sleepers? And by the way, as if anyone would boycott a coffee shop to stop Israeli settlements. That’s just plain whacko. Then you’ve got all these mining moguls and magnates running around buying up newspapers and football teams like they’re playing Monopoly. Oh please! It’s all so clichéd! And quite frankly, they’re all a rather two-dimensional lot… stinking rich, overweight and suing their own children for billions of dollars. Hello? It’s like we’ve stepped into a Jackie Collins novel. I’m sorry, but real people just don’t do that. And don’t get me started on those laughable characters you’ve got running the so-called government. You’re too late! Jeffrey Archer’s already done the whole sleazy-prostitution-credit-card-cover-up thing. Dodgy union officials? Yawn. Oh, and your Prime Minister’s some hard-arsed chick who ”gets things done”? Puh-lease! Ever heard of Indira? Or Golda? Or Maggie? OK, so at least this one’s going out with a hairdresser. That pricked my interest for a nanosecond, but it’s totally implausible. Then there’s this other nerdy Foreign Minister guy who used to be Prime Minister who’s also married to a billionairess – rotund of course - who she stabbed in the back a year ago and now he tries to get his old job back but she beats him anyway and then she appoints some other nerdy guy out of the blue to replace him just because he’s read a few books. It’s a mess. The entire back-story is contrived, preposterous and lacks all credibility. And then there’s that guy straight out of Charles Dickens wandering around with a silk tie and a black robe. What the…? And that crazy commie class-warfare Treasury dude who calls everyone Moe and Curly? What is this, some third world tinpot island? Suddenly we’re in a Graham Green novel. C’mon, be a bit more imaginative. They blow billions on some oddball broadband scheme and millions on car subsidies – why? – and then they put in a mining tax and a carbon tax on the same day? That’s just ludicrous. We paid you one hell of an advance for a contemporary CIA thriller and this is what we get? It doesn't make sense - why would the CIA need to wreck the Australian economy when these clowns are doing it all by themselves?”
The old man stared at her. Slowly, he took a bite of his croissant, the chocolate oozing malevolently out of the crisp pastry.
“I don’t know what to say.”
The sub-ed shrugged. She’d done it. She glanced up at him, and smiled weakly. “There was one thing I liked, if it makes you feel any better,” she said.
The famous thriller writer sighed, as he reached down under the table. For a brief instant she wondered if he was going for his gun. “And what was that?” he asked.
“The way you delivered the whole thing to me like it was a copy of some local Australian newspaper. That was cute,” she said, smiling. “And a week before your deadline, too.”
The old author smiled back at her, as he pulled a thick manila envelope out of his briefcase.