A return to form

I loved John Le Carre's Cold War thrillers. I honestly don't think that there's any one who writes about the murky world of espionage quite as well as he does. But I've been really disappointed by his post-Cold War thrillers. They've generally got very good reviews, but I've felt strongly that this has been more to do with his past success than with what he's writing about now. And, of late, the novels have become, to my taste, increasingly histrionic, as he gets rather hung up on causes he believes in. Great that he believes in them, but when I'm reading fiction, I don't want to feel as though I'm being harangued.

His latest novel, however, Our kind of traitor, marks a cracking return to form. This is every bit as good as some of his great early novels. Perry Makepeace (a throwback to A perfect spy) and his girlfriend Gail Perkins are on an idyllic holiday in Antigua, when they meet a Russian family, who appear to have something to hide. Perry and Gail are drawn into their world, and, when it turns out that "Dima" is deeply involved in the Russian underworld they end up acting as middlemen between the Russian and British intelligence. But, what the Russian has to sell is not going to be welcome to the British establishment.....

It's a wonderfully paced taut novel with a downbeat ending, that really couldn't be bettered. Le Carre writes wonderfully, he makes you care for his characters, even the dreadful Dima, and his mad wife, Tamara. You know this is not going to end well, but the way he draws the threads together is masterful. Oddly enough going back to Russian characters seems to have restored soul to Le Carre's writing, it is a very Cold War novel, and yet is completely removed from that. Definitely the best Le Carre I've read in a long time, I think that it is actually one of his best novels ever.


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