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Not the best of le Carré.
on 23 November 2012
John le Carré's spy novels from the cold war period are rightly regarded as masterpieces of the genre, but with the ending of that phase of history, he has turned to other areas of deception, involving big business, the financial industry, corrupt governments etc. This is one such novel. It starts when a rather naïve academic, Perry, and his lawyer girlfriend, Gail, are holidaying in Antigua when they are befriended by a rich, scary Russian called Dima and his somewhat weird family. Dima is the number one money launderer for Russian mafia-style gangsters, but he has fallen out with them and is afraid that they are about to kill him, just as they recently murdered his close friend. Dima asks Perry to transmit a message to the British security service to the effect that he will `tell all' about the illegal financial activities of the great and the good, including a senior British MP, in exchange of a safe home in England for himself and his family, together with his considerable fortune. This is a highly improbable way to start a novel. What are the chances that a random tourist would know how to contact the security service, and what would Dima have done had Perry declined. Just try another random tourist?
Perry does in fact contact the intelligence service via a fellow academic, and the next part of the book is a long very forensically detailed interrogation of Perry and Gail about the events on Antigua. The secret service personnel who conduct the interviews are unfortunately stereotypes from an earlier age, and I refuse to believe that MI6 is staffed by senior people who still eat `school dinners' in stuffy clubs in Pall Mall and use language from forty years ago. An elaborate plan is concocted to snatch Dima away from his `protectors' at the time of an important financial meeting in Switzerland, then to take him to a safe house where he would be joined by his family prior to flying to England. The deal is made by Hector, the senior secret service officer in charge, but difficulties occur after the snatch, when he encounters resistance from powerful people in England who would stand to lose greatly were the extraction to be successful. The ending, which is largely predictable, has been criticized for being very abrupt, which it certainly is. One reviewer said they felt that the author had grown bored with the whole thing, and I cannot disagree. One is left with the unanswered question about who are the real villains of the piece, the Russian gangsters, or the political and financial power brokers in the UK.
This is definitely not vintage le Carré and judged by his high standards it is rather disappointing, but is still an interesting read, with some good dialogue and characters, whose interactions are convincingly described.