[Book] The Night Manager

Master of suspenseful espionage

John le Carré is a British novelist, best known for his espionage books. He used to work for intelligence services, but left this job after his novels became best-sellers and Carré himself a known author.
Never heard of him? Well, me neither, but I was introduced to his works a while ago by a great friend of mine and it was via The Night Manager. She told me to watch the first episode of the TV series of the same name. Only one season, just six episodes, I can do that, I told to myself. And so I watched the first episode. Let me tell you, I was so enamored of this pilot episode I decided to click BookDepository website and buy the book. The waiting for it was eternally painful – I could feel I started something special here and I made a vowed not to see any other episode until I finish the printed version. That might have been the best decision I ever made, because the television series took a left turn from what the book presented to me. Granted, a lot of series or movies divert from their respective books, but this was something fresh.


I will try to summarize it in a few words to (hopefully) catch your attention and not to bore you to death at the same time.

We meet main (and most lovable male) character – Jonathan Pine – in Cairo hotel where he works as a night manager (ta-da, hence the name of the book, that was quick, right?). The hotel is owned by a Freddie Hamid, the youngest of Hamid brothers, whose wealth and power comes from arms and drug dealership. His mistress Sophie comes to stay at the hotel one day. She meets Jonathan and frequently requests his presence, when finally she entrusts him with documents belonging to Hamid for safekeeping, proving he has business ties with Richard Onslow Roper, “the worst man in the world”. Hamid is buying weapons in such a scale it could help overthrow current government in Egypt. Little we know about Sophies’ motivation to give the papers to Jonathan for safekeeping, but she probably hopes he has secret connections which would be interested in knowing about the contracts. Maybe she wanted to get rid of the life with Hamid she was leading, because it became apparent to her what a man he truly is, maybe she felt guilty not to contact authorities before, but realizes she cannot do it all alone. She sees good in Jonathan and is attracted to him. Consequently, he falls for her, but not before passing the documents to an acquaintance of his from British intelligence. As he does so, the leak is uncovered and Sophie quickly becomes in grave danger as Hamid suspects her. A few days later, she is found dead in the hotel apartment, in spite of Jonathan trying to save. His emotions toward Sophie became stronger and stronger over time, but only after her death does he realize he actually loves her. He internally vows to unveil who killed Sophie and avenge her.

After events in Cairo, Jonathan departs to work as night manager in Hotel Meister Palace in Switzerland. There he happens to meet Roper and his company for the first time. Among Roper’s entourage is Jed – young, tall, flirty, elegant and stunningly beautiful woman with sparkling sex-appeal. Jonathan detests her from the first sight, because, thinking, if she is with Roper she must be as spoiled as “the worst man in the world” is. However, despite the fast judgement he cannot fully resist Jed’s charm and cannot stop thinking about her, which, in turn, always leads him thinking about Sophie. After this episode he contacts and is approached by Intelligence to become their uncover agent to be planted into the Roper’s nest to spy on him and help bring him down.

A scene is set up looking like kidnapping of Roper’s son at a dinner in a restaurant where Jonathan winds up working as a cook. That is no coincidence, all is carefully orchestrated by Intelligence agency and Jonathan saves Roper’s son in the end. Afterwards, for this deed he is granted Roper’s favor although definitely not everyone from Roper’s company is fond of Jonathan, they are suspicious and scent something foul in the whole kidnapping thing and Jonathan’s story (they ran a background check and all checks out “too” perfectly). Trusting, Roper brings Jonathan to his private island – Crystal, and later wants to involve Jonathan in his enterprise as a “signer” instead of Corky, who falls into Roper’s disfavor after Intelligence’s work throws a shade on him. Corky doesn’t like this one bit, but abides, making a mental note to retaliate to Jonathan for this. It is at Crystal, at times when Roper flies away to do business, when Jonathan begins spying and passing information to the Agency. He also becomes somewhat closer with Jed, revealing who he really is, also telling her that he finds her unconcerned behavior as irritating and that he knows she has been through Roper’s private papers (as well as Jonathan).

Later, Jonathan’s arms dealer travels with Roper begin as he is promoted to the director of Tradepath company, which is actually a “ghost” company with capital from Roper’s company – Ironbrand. Money going to all black and unlawful deals come from Tradepath’s account, so there is (legally) no connection with Ironbrand and Roper himself whatsoever. Very fastly, Jonathan becomes involved in Roper’s biggest enterprise – arms deal with Central America’s “freedom fighters” who are willing to pay back in drugs currency, which in turn would flood Europe. Jonathan’s cover is blown just a little later after signing the deal (result of background fight between Intelligence agencies for power, we find out Riverhouse agency was informing and secretely helping Roper from the beginning of the story and it was them who announced to Roper and Hamid that their weapon deal in Cairo was uncovered), but Jonathan is still able to secretly report back to Intelligence agency serial numbers and designation of containers full of drugs en route to Europe in a transport ship. Consequently, he is taken back to Roper’s ship to be beaten to reveal who he works for and to what extent he has done damage to Roper.

Jed has been guarded and behaved to as a prisoner as well because she is believed to be Jonathan’s accomplice, but no physical harm had been done to her. Neither reveal anything, but the torture for both is great. When all hope seems to be lost, Roper gets a phone call from Jonathan’s Intelligence agency telling him his protection from the Riverhouse is over and they know about the shipment of drugs, a.k.a. Roper’s money, too. Roper is told he could either let Jonathan and Jed go unharmed on the nearest strip of land or he will be ruined and end up in jail for the rest of his life. After being presented with this choice, Roper finally chooses rather to let Jed and Jonathan go, saving his investment and himself.

My thoughts

The story itself above was enough to catch and hold my attention throughout the whole thing. And then after finishing the book I came back to finish off TV episodes as well. But half-way through the TV story began to divert from the one in the book and I thought to myself “oh god, why would they ruin a perfectly good book by doing changes to it?” Those weren’t just subtle differences, but big plot-twisting alterations. I will mention a few just so you can see what I mean by this:
  • The arms deal was supposed to be between Roper and freedom fighters residing in a jungle in the north of South America, but instead the TV series portrayed it as a deal between Roper and fighters in Turkey/Near East region.
  • Next up, Jonathan eventually kills Corky who was close to blowing up his cover in the series, but in the book he stays alive and is not even there with Roper when the arms deal is signed.
  • Furthermore (and for me this was the biggest surprise of all), Jed and Jonathan have sex (well, more like a quickie, but still) in all secrecy right under Roper’s nose before flying off to Turkey. The book mentions no such thing, Jed stays sexually loyal to Roper until the very end when her and Jonathan’s freedom is ensured and even then there is no explicit passage about their sexual relationship other than they started to live together in English countryside.

And the list goes on and on –

  • Jonathan giving away trucks with weapons to Intelligence, which in turn had no weapons at all because Roper saw right through Jonathan at the time versus giving away the designation of specific containers with the weapons on a cargo ship, which helped negotiate Jonathan’s freedom in the book
  • torture of both Jonathan and Jed at the very end (in contrast to torture of Jonathan only in the book)
  • final scene happening in Cairo, Egypt (vs. the last scene in the book took place on Roper’s private ship near Central America)
  • Roper losing everything and getting “what he deserves” in the end (vs. Roper accepting the Intelligence deal to let Jonathan and Jed go to keep his empire, money, and power in turn).
I bet you would agree those are quite substantial changes. There are many more of course, but those mentioned above stroked me as severe.
But you know what? Although the TV series producers have not clung to the original le Carré’s novel, I must admit their interpretation was an excellent one. In many details it was a more compelling story that tied itself neatly at the very end. In example I love how the producers ended in Cairo where Jonathan’s resolution to avenge Sophie had started. Le Carré’s ending was unsatisfying (though it reflected real world much more accurately), and in contrast there was something pleasing about seeing Roper being driven away to an unknown place in the back of a van by people who lost millions of dollars in the blown arms deal. Maybe I am much too used to good endings.


I must mention the actors who played the main characters, because in my opinion they did a great job.

Big props to Hugh Laurie (a.k.a. Doctor House) playing the main villain Mr. Richard Onslow Roper and playing him superbly. The book’s Roper character is an extremely charismatic person, a poker-faced bluffer, merciless, reigning over Jed and his empire with iron fist, but seemingly kind at times. And Laurie delivered all this, there is just something about him playing the antagonist!

Tom Hiddleston playing Jonathan was another great decision and I got more reasons to support this other than the suave British accent of his. I got to admit, he is one hell of a handsome man and when in a suite I can really imagine him being an actual night manager at a luxurious hotel like the one in Switzerland. I like how Hiddleston acted out the complex change from somebody who does not want to have anything to do with Hamid and Roper to Sophie’s avenger willing to do what needs to be done and become a martyr for a good cause if need be. He brilliantly portrayed schizophrenia in being drawn to Jed’s radiance and detesting her at the same time for being with Roper; fake smiles; resolution and secret hate for Roper as well as any arms deal of his which eventually results in death of innocent people.

Last, but definitely not least, Elizabeth Debicki in the role of Jed Marshall. Debicki came true to the book’s description of Jed – she is a tall, radiantly beautiful woman with lots of sex-appeal, and definitely not afraid to show off her body (but I will get to that a little later). At first, I did not know what to think about Jed in the TV series, I was like Jonathan – I hated her and loved her at the same time. And exactly this mixed feeling shows how astonishingly well Debicki acted as Jed. I had not sensed such feelings while reading the book, shall I add. There are a few characteristics where I think Debicki outmatched even the novel’s Jed:
Jed is a complex character, beautiful and sexy, yet vulnerable and fragile. Debicki builds on this and brings her womanhood into this equation, too. It seems le Carré’s portrayal of Jed is somewhat inferior to Debicki’s. Her Jed cries and is vulnerable when alone, but tough in the role of Roper’s mistress. It seems like she has this impenetrable wall build around herself, not permitting anyone inside her emotions, not even Jonathan, because she know in Roper’s world being weak and vulnerable designates her as prey.
One last thing I liked about Debicki’s Jed was lack of shyness and almost artistic scenes showing her curves, underwear or hernaked body. It was an effective and elegant way of building on Jed’s sex-appeal and the fact she was the main and only woman character in the story.

In conclusion

I would like to thank my good friend May for introducing me to this book and TV series. It was an awesome journey and I ABSOLUTELY recommend it. Both – the book and TV series. It has a great espionage ambiance, well-thought and developing main characters (plus awesome actors in the TV series), modern era plot, and moral dilemmas to answer.

What more one needs to start reading/watching right away? 🙂

Title image: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1735330.The_Night_Manager
Other images used in the article are from these websites:

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