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Our Kind Of Traitor probably sells itself on John Le Carre’s reputation rather than on any synopsis of the novel itself. But this is a long, long way from Smiley’s People.
In very broad terms, this is a story of an English academic and his lawyer wife, on holiday in the Caribbean, meeting a Russian oligarch who wants to defect to the UK. The oligarch asks the academic to intercede between himself and the British authorities.
The trouble is, the plot is not plausible and the characters are not credible. There is a lot of complex stuff about money laundering and international finance, but is this seriously what we have our finest intelligence agents working on? Would they really give asylum to a dodgy banker who had fallen out with his dodgy banker friends? Why would they need to stage some elaborate kidnapping from a remote Swiss mountain when it would have been far easier for the dodgy oligarch to have just bought a plane ticket to London. And would they really bring a randomer academic into their fold whilst they did all this?
The characters are lifted from comic books. Boorish businessmen; brain-dead bodyguards; public school dandy spies, stupid policemen, idealistic academics. There’s no depth to any of them.
Basically, nothing rings true. This is a real shame when the verisimilitude of the daily grind of office work was what lifted Le Carre’s earlier works above other espionage thrillers.
The ending is abrupt. It is hard to disguise an abrupt ending when the reader will be able to see the lack of further pages (or the Kindle counter approaching 100%). Thus, the shock is somewhat lost – the reader knows something cataclysmic must be coming and the only doubt is what form it might take. I know others have been disappointed by the ending and felt that it left loose ends; I actually thought it worked well and was, perhaps, the only memorable or intriguing thing in a novel that was otherwise slow and confusing.
This feels like a tired novel by a tired writer; a writer whose repertoire has been consigned to history, writing about an organisation that seems to be searching for a purpose. It seldom holds the attention and when the plot gets convoluted, there is a temptation to just press ahead without trying to piece together what is actually going on.
Two or three summers ago a top British politician called Peter Mandelson (PM) was spotted on a luxury yacht owned by a Russian aluminium tycoon called Oleg Deripaska and PM was not the only British notable on board.
JLC's 22nd novel is a brilliantly-plotted, -researched and -written novel about love, honour and betrayal.
OKT is primarily an assault on Britain's ruling strata. And only secondly about the Kremlin's campaign to control Russian organized crime much as they subdued the oligarchs a decade earlier: "Share with us, or else!" The oligarchs complied, fled abroad or were jailed. Dealing with Russia's crime syndicates is harder. They are age-old brotherhoods of "honourable criminals" ("vory") living by strict codes whereby talking to, let alone dealing with the State is a sin punishable by death. But in this novel this Russian version of "omertá" is breached somewhere, somehow: Russia's seven richest and best-organized crime syndicates make a deal with the Kremlin. But there is one major obstacle. His name is Dima, which is short for Dimitri, an honourable criminal since the age of 14, who survived 15 years in ice-cold Kolyma, and has since worked his way up to become the world's best money launderer on behalf of himself and the Seven Brotherhoods. Now he is doomed because he knows too much and is not willing to sell out, deal with the State. He is a blunt, bearlike, forceful, emotional, desperate Russian with only days or weeks to live once he has signed over his private business empire to the Seven Brotherhoods and disclosed where he he hid their tens of billions of loot, when the book starts. From his refuge on the island of Antigua Dima makes a last-ditch effort to save at least his family by challenging young Oxford lecturer Peregrine ("Perry") Makepiece to a game of tennis. Perry and his lawyer girlfriend Gail fall prey to the charms of Dima and his mournful extended family. Perry pens down what Dima tells him about his life and works, because he wants a deal with the British government to save his family in exchange for a full account of his awesome whitewashing career, hoping Perry is a British spy or knows one. Perry's 28-page account, when he and Gail return home, does reach British intelligence. But... I hope this rich book is not JLC's parting shot at writing, because OKT is in my humble opinion his best. The context and descriptions are like watching a film, the characters and dialogues are great and the moral implications of this tale go beyond anything JLC has written before.
OKT is a square assault on corruption and rent-seeking behaviour by key members of Britain's establishment in government, parliament, the press, and esp. the sacred square mile of the City, where blood money of many types and provenances is banked, invested, transferred at lightning speed to fresher pastures and back again, for no purpose or wider benefit to wider humanity. The Square Mile and its many paid advocates welcome the establishment of the banking arm of the Arena Conglomerate of the Seven Brotherhoods warmly, with its promise of bringing hundreds of billions to London and of plentiful investments in moribund industries in a near-bankrupt country. Very rich and deep book. True masterpiece.
20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and le Carre finally writes a passable post-Cold War. Of course the premise is ludicrous, yuppies picked to handle Russian kleptocrat's defection and the characterisation as usual very thin: the defectee is essentially a Bond villain: fast, bald and speaking bad formal English (Blofeld or Hugo Drax anyone?); would any believe that an Oxford don would give up his fellowship to teach in a secondary school and the young barrister seems to be able to abandoned her important brief at will. The main female character is rather better drawn than usual but Le carre has to include his standard mad wife and a slut, this time a pregnant 16 year-old whose only purpose seems to be to ensure that Gail screws up the escape plan to allow another predictable downbeat ending. Only if Smiley is involved are plots allowed to succeed in le Carre's world.
One positive note is that the author has finally got over his need to use inappropriate or incorrect terminology, hence 'four track' has become '4x4' and 'buckskin', 'suede'.
Second-rate Frederick Forsyth but diverting enough to pass a plane journey.
I’m sorry to say that this author was a disappointment to me. I saw his passionate interview about money laundering schemes in a world of finance on internet and decided to check him out. The basic concept is not bad, but it’s development is too shallow and doesn’t create any solid picture of dark world of finance in my opinion with the ending which for me is was huge disappointment. What I mean by that is the situation when you expect that at this point the story will really kick of, but it ends abruptly instead. Also the author uses a lot of depictions and portraits of people which slows the action very heavily, but most of all lacks cinematic view of action when precise detail is essential to create the suspense. As I said I’m sorry to write that, but since Amazon had asked me twice here I am.
I was disappointed with this book. If it was possible to give it a 3.5 stars on the Amazon system I would have. I missed the film but if it was as drawn out as the book I probably didn't miss much. I persevered until the end thinking that it would get better but it didn't. The story was not bad but it was just so slow I could have had a sandwich mid chapter and missed nothing. There was no urgency within me to get back to the book as there is when a book has a great story, is full of action and plenty of tension. This book lacked all three.
This book isn't in the same league as previous offerings by this author. Where are the marvellous detailed descriptions of the characters, the beautifully complex plots and people in whom you can believe? This book just seems to idle along and certainly doesn't make you rush to pick it up to see how the story is developing. Also seems to fall into that horrible trend of so many books where the author appears to have satisfied his/her quota of words for the publisher or can't think of a good ending and winds up the story in around two paragraphs. Absolutely hopeless ! Massively disappointing effort from such a talented writer.
The difident, witty characters, sketched so well in his novels are every bit as important as his plots. And, he has adopted to the modern environments to take real world events and craft a really good modern spy story. You can't help but believe the eccentricities, and character traits of the heroes and villains of this book. I loved every minute. Highly recommended!