Sunday, 2 January 2011

Our Kind of Traitor. By John Le Carre

Our Kind of Traitor

John Le Carre

Published in 2010 by Penguin Books

   Like most Le Carre, very current and topical. There is a reference to the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. The Russian crook, who is the main character in the book, says that a 'Pakistani' friend calls him in October 2008 and warns him to move out all money he has invested in the Mumbai stock market, especially in Indian Hotels. There are also other references to Indians - as being seen at Roland Garros, and in Antigua - a nod, I suppose, to Manmohanomics. 
   The book is a thrilling (grips you till the very end) story about money-laundering by the Russian mafia, about how the very top echelons of the British establishment collude with the crooks, in order to save their banks and their own money. Nearly everybody is a crook, but not all - there are a few men in the 'Service', (Intelligence or Counterintelligence service, I suppose, something like MI5 or MI6 or something) who still have ideals, still believe that criminal money is bad, though it may save the 'City of London'. And these are the 'men and women who do good by stealth'. Try to anyway. Like many of Le Carre's recent novels, this one also ends in the defeat of the good. (Actually 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' and 'Smiley's People' are the last two of his books I remember, in which Good completely triumphed). The book is written in the usual Le Carre non-linear style, particularly in the beginning, with long interviews, where after pages and pages of back and forth conversations, the question is finally resolved abruptly in a sentence or two. It's still 'perpetually drizzling' in London, Switzerland is mostly snow-bound and cold, and greyness, especially of the heart, pervades. 
   The book shifts attention from the US - only one punch is thrown at that country, and that in passing - about how the British Service had its nose stuck up the 'cousins' arse'. His more recent books, especially 'A Most Wanted Man' and 'Absolute Friends' could sometimes be seen as a crusade against USA. Le Carre's concerns remain - decency, doing the right thing, Wodehousian values in a world that seems to be doing its damnedest to show that it is stupid to care.