Saturday, January 8, 2011

Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre': A review

Our Kind of Traitor is typical John le Carre' - intricately plotted, provocative, intelligently written and seemingly springing right off the pages of today's newspapers.

In the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse and the onset of world economic crisis, we find a young English couple, Perry and Gail, having a vacation in Antigua. There they meet a Russian named Dima, who, it appears, is linked to the Russian mafia and who may be seeking a way to slip away from their clutches. He engages Perry to play a game of tennis, a game that is watched by Dima's extended family and bodyguards. After the game, he begins to test Perry to see whether he might be his ticket "out". He wants to know whether Perry is a spy or has any connections to the vaunted British Secret Service.

No, and no. Perry, the academic, is not a spy and has no connections but he is intrigued by Dima and upon returning to England, he manages to contact the Secret Service and tell them about him. Dima has called himself the world's number one money launderer and, as such, he has much information which he is offering to the British if they will get him and his family out.

Just how a certain section of the British Secret Service plans to do that, using Perry and Gail as a conduit of information and as cover for the escaping Russians, makes up the bulk of le Carre's story. It is a complicated story, the plotline worthy of le Carre's best. The suspense builds as the day of the great escape nears and its prospect of success is endangered by personal complications of some of the characters. Will the Russian and his disparate family ever see the shores of England or will the bad guys win again?

John le Carre' can hardly be said to be brimming over with optimism at the state of the world. The last three of his books that I have read, The Constant Gardener, Absolute Friends, and now this one, have all been infused with a deep pessimism about the way of the world and whether it is possible to find justice in such a world.

John le Carre' has, of course, had a long and successful career writing about the men and women who move in the shadowy world of espionage and who try in their own complicated way, playing games within games, to make things come out right. He was the master of the great spy novel during the Cold War years. Now that the world has changed, he still is.

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