Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Our Man in Havana was published in 1959 and is an espionage thriller, a penetrating character study, and a political satire that still resonates today. Conceived as one of Graham Greene’s ‘entertainments,’ it tells of MI6’s man in Havana, Wormold, a former vacuum-cleaner salesman turned reluctant secret agent out of economic necessity. He files bogus reports based on Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and dreams up military installations from vacuum-cleaner designs to keep his job. He starts to enjoy the financial fruits of his rouse and his success at making believable spies and double agents and uncovering a sinister military site. However, his stories start to come true as MI6 and foreign spy agencies close in.

This beautifully written book has you chuckling at the absurdity of a salesman being approached to be a spy and the tales he creates to gain more money from MI6. It is dated to the Cold War but loses none of its poignancy in attacking the ridiculousness and stupidity of the British establishment. In some ways, it’s analogous to the scandal of PPE during Covid. The old boys nod and wink, and when discovered, a veil of silence and denial is implemented in case the wider public finds the incompetency of the British state. The result of Wormhold’s escapades is promotion back in London as Training Manager for all future spies.

The book is delicate yet powerful, showing Wormold’s love for his daughter and her future as his driving force. It will have you laughing out loud. Brilliant.