Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre

So. You know that feeling when you’d like a book to be much better than it actually is? Yeah, well that. I’d taken this Le Carre as part of my holiday reading partly because I’d become a recent zealous convert to the man and his work and partly because I’d had it lying by the side of my bed for ages. One of them.

This is Le Carre on the Russian mafia and for the most part, it’s fine. What you get is a fairly perfunctory tale of Russian billionaire money launderer wanting to defect assisted by those familiar literary tropes that Le Carre is brilliant at: the insider knowledge of the secret service, the big geopolitics, the sense of impending doom.

If, therefore, you’re looking for a less cerebral Le Carre and one that’s heavy on Hitchcockian intrigue and light on Whitehall machinations then this might be your thing. It’s pacily written and not without its charms: if you’re a fan of tennis, you’ll be in oils. 

However, it didn’t quite live up to its promise. The first issue I had with the novel was a niggling sense of an inability to make its mind up about what it actually is. It veers between chase thriller and back to spy novel with such abandon that you’re sometimes left with a feeling that this is a novel in draft rather than the final product. Second, the characters don’t quite hit home. 

I couldn’t help but imagine the businessman Phillip Green as the Russian  criminal which probably says more about me than the author’s intent but there you  go. Equally the female characters feel only partly drawn and as a consequence you’re left feeling not actually that bothered about them which is a bit of a shame.

All the same, the novel is not without its charm and the denouement is downbeat but appropriate. This isn’t the best Le Carre of recent times- nor the worst. It is, though, the one that you’ll keep thinking has a better novel in it than the one you actually have in your hands.


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