John le Carré

Our Kind of Traitor

"One of the great delights of Le Carre is the feeling he engenders of being an insider. "



Synopsis: The tale starts in Antigua where Perry Makepiece, an Oxford don with ambitions to do something useful, and his beautiful barrister girlfriend, Gail, are spending a holiday, relaxing in the sun and playing tennis. They encounter Dima, a large Russian bear of a man, who professes a strong desire to pit his skills against Perry on the tennis court. He does, however, have an ulterior motive. He wants Perry and Gail to be his introduction to the British Secret Service, for whom he has an interesting proposal.

Dima is a strange mixture of violence and sentimentality, and his language varies from brutal to mawkish. He is a hugely rich member of the Russian mafia who has achieved his great wealth from being the best international money launderer around. He has fallen out with the big bosses at home and is in danger of losing his life and fortune at their hands. Perry and Gail are dragged into the intrigue with some reluctance, but also with a sneaking desire to get involved.

The story moves from the West Indies to Paris, to Switzerland via London involving British agents, Russian gangsters and the unfortunate family of Dima and the two innocents abroad, Gail and Perry.


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One of the great delights of Le Carre is the feeling he engenders of being an insider. The descriptions of the machinations of the Secret Service and the struggle of the old timers against the new politics and influence of the banks all ring true. He has moved his focus from the old cold war politics to the new influences of post Soviet gangster capitalism and the effect the changes have on those who remain in the Service who hold it as dear as family and religion. The old guard are clinging on in the shape of Hector Meredith, but some of the new guard such as Meredith's sidekick, Luke, are still devoted to the Service above all. Perry is representative of the new 'in' society as he is from an ordinary background and makes good at Oxford. His girlfriend is also not from the top drawer socially but is suitably clever and beautiful. These two are involved in the intrigue almost by accident, but are ambivalent about how much they want to be involved. Dima is a complex character. He is obviously seriously criminal but has a passionate love for his family that endears him in a strange way to Gail and Perry. His family are extraordinary and it is their attraction that involves Gail in the dangerous actions that ensue. Le Carre reveals the plot gradually step by step and it takes some time to realise what is happening. To start with I found this intriguing, but I think it did make the beginning a bit slow as it was difficult to see where it was all heading. There were several references in the book to current news stories such as the Open Tennis final in Paris, won in grand style by Roger Federer, and more intriguingly a meeting on board a luxury yacht owned by a very rich Russian with politicians and influential society members. There are some exciting descriptions of evading the Russian killers and British agent Ollie is in the best traditions of spy books as he is universally prepared and equipped with everything needed to escape.

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