The Pequod Review:
The Human Factor is one of Graham Greene’s most underrated books, a complex and subtle spy novel that considers the tension between loyalty to one’s family and to one’s country. The book is the story of Maurice Castle, an aging MI6 spy whose department oversees the former African colonies. His wife is a black South African who years ago was aided by the Communists in her escape from apartheid. As a result, Castle has maintained sympathy for the Communists even while he continued working for British intelligence. The story comes to a head when MI6 traces a Russian leak back to his department, which sets off a chain of events that implicate Castle and his colleagues. The espionage plot is very good, suspenseful and fully plausible, but the real pleasure is the way Greene explores the amoral and self-serving nature of the entire espionage operation, which views its agents as disposable pawns. But spies are human beings too — with spouses, kids, mortgages, and dreams of retirement — and asking them to carry out such cold and secretive work can exact a heavy psychological toll.