When the Cold War ended one might have been forgiven to think the John le Carre’s career as a writer of the spy novel might have come crashing down along with the Berlin wall. Rest assured, in ‘Our Kind of Traitor’ le Carre shows us that the Russian spy novel is alive and well for the twenty-first century.
Born to the ranks of the British upper middle-class Perry Makepiece, an English literature tutor at Oxford College and his long-standing girlfriend, Gail, the “sparky young barrister on the rise” take a brief vacation in Antigua to consider their future and play a little tennis. Their holiday is rudely interrupted by Dima from Perm, and his accompanying Russian family, who leeches on to the Brits and take over their time and their tennis.
Dima makes Perry an offer he can’t refuse. He wants to rat out his fellow Russian crooks to the British government to get his family and since Perry, who is labeled Professor by this Russian money launderer, is “goddam fair-play English” Dima chooses him to pass on this information to the apparatchik’s of the British government.
Upon returning home, Perry, against Gail’s better judgment, passes on the message to the service. Before they know it the pair are recruited and caught up in the “cut and thrust of high-stakes intrigue” becoming pawns in the hands of everyone they become involved with, be it their British masters, or the sweet innocent kids caught up in their Russian parent’s need for moral endeavor.
Le Carre proves again to be the master of the understatement as his very British characters charge around Europe waiting, hiding their charges from the Russian gangsters that are trying to stop the traitor from passing on the secrets of the vory, and waiting on the government bureaucrats to cut through the red-tape so they can bring the goods home to spill his guts.
With the authorities closing in on the illegals hiding out in the Swiss countryside, the family and their handlers start to come unhinged in their hideout, and with time running out le Carre swings the momentum like the pendulum in a grandfather clock until the grand finale.