Our Kind of Traitor

John Le Carre

The conclusion of The Constant Gardener, for example, proposes that the protagonist’s life and ideals were so betrayed that life itself had lost all value.

Espionage by its nature is confusing. Its certainties are variable and random and in his new novel, Our Kind of Traitor, confidence is a quality to be parodied. A pair of high-minded and fairly high-living Londoners — a university don and a barrister — decide to find a way of starting anew. To their astonishment the tennis- focused holiday which was to signal this change of tune introduces them to a Russian family apparently on the run from their homeland.

Gail the barrister is quickly enmeshed in the emotional intricacies of mother and children; Perry, the disillusioned don, is challenged to ferociously competitive games of tennis with Dima, the father who travels accompanied by a satellite team of bodyguards.

Instead of sensibly leaving this ominous group alone, Perry and Gail get involved in Dima’s exchange rate: sanctuary in decent England in return for details of the oligarchs’ international high-finance trading. That kind of deal ensures Dima a lot of enemies, yet the English couple are trapped into engagement by Gail’s tenderness for the children enmeshed in Dima’s web of cult, clan and retribution, and by Perry’s fascination with Russia’s drug-funded capitalism.

Perry and Gail don’t have too much trouble identifying and dealing with the baddies but once they find themselves in the clutches of British intelligence and subject to intensive interrogation they discover just how ruthless international diplomacy can be. And that is when it’s on their side: their kind of spy, their kind of espionage, their kind of traitor, in other words.

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