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on 24 March 1999
How information may be used and manipulated, how it may destroy, is at the centre of Le Carre's new novel. The plot involves con artists at the very top end of the market. Tiger Single is a wheeler-dealer setting up world-wide scams, currently with the Georgian mafia. He's a sort of hybrid Tiny Rowland/Al- Fayed/Robert Maxwell who brings his son, Oliver, into the business just when the commodity market is getting dirtier and dirtier. (Read pages 82-83 for a breakdown of just how dirty.) When Oliver discovers what Single's latest 'line' is he blows the whistle and disappears into a new identity as a children's entertainer. Several years later, as Tiger's empire begins to unravel, Oliver is forced out into the open again. The Georgians are in a vengeful rage and in the UK Nat Brock, Oliver's official contact and very own Smiley, spots an opportunity to expose some extremely high level corruption. The twists and turns are gripping, with everybody asking things like who knows what? how do they know it? can we get them to tell us? will they know that we know? and so on. As always, Le Carre's prose is a delight -but where did he come across the phrase 'chinese take-in'?- and he gracefully adds another dimension to the thriller.
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HALL OF FAMEon 7 February 2005
Le Carre's writing talents didn't tumble with The Berlin Wall. Since the fading of the Cold War, he's demonstrated his continuing ability to weave a plot and image people apart from those in the espionage game. In this book, the Russians are still with us, but in a whole new light - they're active capitalists trying to make a ruble. Any way they can. Flogging "clean Caucasoid blood" to the West is merely an opening gambit, but it's a start. In support of this immaculate enterprise, the financial house of Single is recruited for money management. Tiger Single, the senior partner, with his son Oliver, are set to reap a fortune. Certain events impair the smooth flow of cash, and the Russian partners turn to a new means of profit-making, drugs. As a lawyer in a financial management organization, Oliver draws the line at drugs. It jeopardizes the future of the firm, and his own. He informs on his father to government officials in the hope of cutting a deal.
Like many other Le Carre novels, this one eschews a simple linear plot format. You are offered a thread to study, then another seemingly unrelated, one. You must carry the information you're given when other threads emerge. But Le Carre never leaves you hanging or lost. The threads begin to come together in the rich tapestry Le Carre is so talented at weaving. Nothing is inevitable, the twists are sometimes abrupt, but never implausible. There are no real weaknesses in this plot. Some of the characterization, however, seems a bit contrived, unusual in Le Carre.
Although not an espionage novel, Le Carre draws Oliver as if he was a George Smiley operative. He goes to ground with amazing skill for a lawyer, his cover the performance of children's magic shows. Oliver maintains this role long enough to marry, bear a daughter and complete a divorce. He is "run" by a Brock who teaches him tradecraft, which in Oliver's case only requires some touching up, not attending the whole course. Oliver is loved or admired by more women than one man deserves - his landlady, a Russian gangster's wife and Aggie, one the Brock's agents. Somehow, given Aggie's role, this last seems the least plausible.
As with other post-Cold War Le Carre novels, this one is as much education as entertainment. You close the last page but you find closing down the memories and topics more difficult. International blood traffic is a real issue, exactly as pharmaceuticals were in The Constant Gardner. The issues are real, the people mostly convincing, the events hidden from the public eye, but revealing in their likelihood. Any Le Carre novel is worth a read, some welcoming a revisit. Single and Single is one worth picking up again. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 26 December 2000
I can't help wishing that this had been a longer novel. Le Carre takes us to some of the most politically hot areas of the world(Russia,Georgia,Turkey)and has a great theme in post cold war Russia and the infinitly sleazy world of finance but deals with it all too quickly.He shows all his usual skill in creating characters to voice the cynicism and hopeless idealism that is often at the centre of his books but gives them too short a time on stage and with less of the detail of place and motivation that really fleshes them out.For fans of le Carre this book is also the third(?) to explore the relationship between son and his robber baron father that started in "the Honorable schoolboy" and was central to "a perfect spy" where its was so well done that to have a reprisal here is a bit of an anti- climax.A good thriller by a great writer and even when le Carre is just skimming the surface he's far better than his contempories.
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The book starts with two seemingly disconnected events – the death of a lawyer in Turkey and the trip of a Devon entertainer to his bank. Eventually these are connected and the story centres on the head of the company, Tiger Single, and his son Oliver. Oliver had been unhappy with some of the company’s transactions, especially relating to Russian business, and had reported them to the Customs authorities before going into hiding to protect himself against the organised crime elements associated with his father. Now Tiger Single has disappeared and Oliver is called back to work with the authorities to try and find him and work out what has happened.

This is not a book of car chases and great activity. It is a character based drama dealing with a number of very flawed people. The narrative goes back to the heady days in which the company was heavily involved with Russian mobsters and then forward to the search for what is going on. We spend most of the story following Oliver Single, his search for his father and revisiting the choices and mistakes he has made.

It’s a compelling narrative and excellent story telling. The plot is complex but the twists arise from the characters and feel natural, not just thrown in to cause artificial excitement in the reader. I did think that the ending was slightly unsatisfying although it does make sense when you consider the characters and the story.
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on 5 October 2015
Oliver Single, the hero of John Le Carré’s fourth post-Cold War novel, seems, if anything, more troubled by internal demons than George Smiley, though probably not Alec Leamas. He is damaged by disillusion as he is drawn into Single & Single and suffers, as do many of Le Carré’s heroes, from his public school up-bringing. Oliver generates in himself and many readers, I expect, considerable outrage and without even the ambiguous moral high ground of Western values that Le Carré occasionally defends in his earlier fiction. He finds himself a stranger in his own country and turns double-agent within his father’s business empire. Single & Single is in the business of investment and asset and portfolio management in the world of holding companies, usually off-shore and sometimes owned by foundations. It is the business of money and of dirty traders with smart addresses. “Everyone’s a trader”, someone remarks.

Le Carré is remarkably good at “showing”, rather than “telling”, to use Henry James’s distinction, and the interconnections between people, places, events, and activities are only bit-by-bit revealed. The significance of the shocking opening on a very hot Turkish hillside is left in front of the reader until, in time, its significance becomes apparent. There is also a good deal of narrative movement from past to present in Oliver’s mind, the former paradoxically signaled by a switch to the present tense. This device works very effectively, both in plot terms and as a way to reveal the struggles within Oliver.

Critics and reviewers often make a sound case for Le Carré’ transcending the spy-novel and the variants upon it that he, more than anyone, has gone on to develop since the Berlin Wall came down. There is real despair in his fiction and his narrative techniques are very accomplished and go well beyond generic norms. And, for a while, his characterization was quite subtle, as an interior life intersected with the protocols and plots of the thriller. However, at some point – probably before “Single and Single” – Le Carré’s characterization becomes mannered and over-formulaic, in that motifs from one novel are transferred without much modification into another novel. The hero’s decency is evident when he “pads” around a room like a big friendly bear; he has to “kill” or otherwise deal with a father or father-figure; and he is desperately sentimental about certain close relatives or friends. Oliver’s feelings for his daughter, Carmen, rise in pitch the more irresponsible he is as a father. Sentimentality is often a sign that a character wants to have his cake even as he eats it. When the main character slips into caricature (admittedly, a caricature of Le Carré’s own inimical making), other characters suffer as well and we know who someone is the moment he or she speaks. Subject and verb get dropped from too many sentences. Villains speak in an extraordinary mix of versions of English. These are balanced by honourable foreigners who have their own odd way of speaking. Women are abandoned wives or brave but rather physically-awkward comrades who abandon themselves to the foolishness of the hero (in this novel, a Customs Officer called Aggy) or landladies who hold the fort for the hero.

Quite possibly, Le Carré is so incensed by post-Cold War activities and by Blair- and post-Blair Britain, in particular, that he is looking for the most direct way to castigate it while still writing fiction. “Single & Single” is a justifiably angry book of markets being flooded by awful products with the direct or indirect involvement of the establishment.
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on 10 March 1999
Single & Single is a very good novel indeed. Instead of the skullduggery of the Cold War, le Carre has turned his attention to the shady world of high finance to stunning effect. The central character, Oliver Single, is finely drawn and believable and we share his sympathy from the outset when he finds himself embroiled in events beyond his control.
To my mind le Carre seems to emprove in skill with each successive novel. For example, what 'Our Game' lacked in plot in more than made up for in style and skilled writing. And with 'Single & Single' le Carre has surpassed even his own high standards with an ingenious plot and strong characters.
If you are a fan then I suggest you but this book now, and if you've never read a John le Carre novel you could do no better than start here (or in that case why not try and of other superb spy thrillers!).
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Before the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall, British author John LeCarre wrote magnificent spy stories. He has published many, has first-hand experience of the spy biz, and is best known for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold;Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; and Smiley's People. Then the wall fell, and what was LeCarre to do? He takes up writing stories about international drug and arms dealers, and pharmaceutical cartels,and tricks them out with all the midnight meetings of the Home Office mandarins,and their ilk, that he previously wrote so well about, but in the case of international drug-arms smugglers, it's definitely the mountains laboring to bring forth a mouse.

"Single and Single", unfortunately, follows the same pattern, though there's also some patter about smuggling blood, perhaps based in research. Her Majesty's Customs Service is all over the story, safe houses, hard men, smart beautiful talented women from Glasgow, and all. It's hard to believe in such a proactive bureacracy in hidebound Britain, aside, of course, from the fabled MI6 of LeCarre's good old days. The obligatory love interest strains credulity: I can't recall ever seeing such an extraordinary female customs employee at any British airport; and we're given precious little indication of what such a woman might see in Oliver Single. The book does begin, at least, with a bang,set on a mountainside in Turkey, it's one of LeCarre's more powerful openings. And the central conflict, between Oliver Single, and his rogue Dad, Tiger Single (thus Single and Single), has some credibility and resonance:LeCarre has let it be known that his own father was a rogue, and a con man, and representations of that father appear quite often in his work. For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of LeCarre's earlier work, this is not the place to begin.
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on 28 May 2016
An exploration of the relationship between corruption and personal loyalties, this is one of the best novels since Graham Greene was writing. This is not for those who want thrill a minute plots and lovingly described violence. If you like evocative settings and characters - although I was a little uncertain about Single junior, family dullard and spy - then this book is for you. My only dislike is the occasional breakaway from the narrative where the reader is uncertain if a flash-back or daydream is occurring (e.g. Single senior is apparently sitting in a chair); sorry, author, but this is not missing information to enhance the suspense, it's just annoying).
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on 31 December 2010
good to read a book set in the world of oligarchs and the people who helped them clean their money. some of the characters are a trifle overplayed but otherwise a great yarn.
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on 2 March 2000
Some years ago with the collapse of the Iron curtain we all wondered "whither the spy writer". I read "The naive and sentimental lover" with deepest misgivings. Fortunately Le Carre' has recovered to produce here a work comparable to his cold war stuff. Great characters, labyrinthine plot and a convincing whiff of menace are combined to produce an immensely readable and exciting book. Very stylish, just terrific.
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