Near-future science fiction where the violence of neocolonial financial dominance is more direct and more literal than it is today. It's just as grim and violent as you'd expect from the author's earlier books.
Towles's second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, got a lot of attention. Rules of Civility, his first novel, came out a few years ago. Most of it takes place in New York in 1938, but with a prologue in 1966. We learn in the prologue that the main character is eventually prosperous and successful, that she eventually marries someone named Val, that someone named Tinker Grey was once important to her and that he somehow fell on hard times; then we spend most of the book waiting to understand those things. A lot of what makes the book interesting is how we gradually (or in a few cases suddenly) realize how misleading most of the characters' deliberately constructed personae are.
The main character is Isis Whit, or, in full, The Blessed Very Reverend Gaia-Marie Isis Saraswati Minerva Mirza Whit of Luskentyre, Beloved Elect of God, III. She's the granddaughter and heir of Salvador Whit (whose full name is even more impressive), the founder of the tiny and austere True Church of Luskentyre. She's 19 at the start of the book and has spent her whole life in her Order's Community in rural Scotland. Now there's a family problem that requires her to go on a mission out into the world of the unsaved, to Edinburgh and London and beyond.
It was an interesting choice for a committed atheist like Banks to write a book told from the point of view of someone for whom her faith is everything. I think he went out of his way to make up a religion that he could respect in some ways, even if he couldn't take it as seriously as his character does.
I took a class on Plato as a undergrad, which was a while ago. This was a good refresher.
This book comes with a forward, written by le Carré in 1991. The Looking Glass War was published in 1965, immediately after The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, and it was written as an even less romantic and (from le Carré's point of view) more realistic view of the spy world: one where the issue isn't so much betrayal and moral ambiguity, but incompetence, muddle, petty bureaucratic battles, characters fighting (and failing) to convince themselves that what they do matters.
The conductor in this book is fictional, as is the manner of and reason for his death, but I imagine we're supposed to be reminded of Herbert von Karajan.