Viking £18.99

Our Kind of Traitor, By John Le Carré

There's an awful lot of talk in this tale of a Russian mafia money launderer coming in from the cold

John Le Carré could be forgiven for putting his feet up and having a rest, given that he's spent the past 50 years defining the British spy novel. In fact, the author has been enjoying something of a purple patch with his most recent offerings, moving away from his traditional Cold War setting to tackle all sorts of modern multinational corruption, political subterfuge and criminal activity.

This time around, he is having a timely pop at the behaviour of the international banking community, as well as the Russian mafia and, as is usual, the subtle machinations of the British Secret Service. It's an intriguing and ultimately captivating story, but not without its structural and characterisation problems.

Perry Makepeace is a young, jaded English lecturer at Oxford University; his girlfriend, Gail Perkins, is a beautiful and promising barrister. On a rather uncharacteristic holiday in Antigua, they encounter Dima, a larger-than-life Russian bear of a man who happens to be the major money launderer for the Russian mafia.

The meeting is not accidental on Dima's part, as he is looking to escape a highly threatening situation and willing to whistleblow on the entire organisation in exchange for a new life courtesy of British Intelligence. So Perry and Gail take his message back with them to Britain, where they somewhat implausibly find the appropriate ears to tell it to, thus setting in motion the plot wheels that keep turning towards a genuinely tense ending.

The characters of Perry and Gail are rather too thin to spend all this time with, and Le Carré is on more solid ground with his cast of intelligence officers, from Hector the bluff old maverick to Luke, saved from a career of pen-pushing by this one last operation in the field. Le Carré also does a great job of painting Dima and his entourage, creating one almighty dysfunctional family with a classically likeable rogue at its head.

But Our Kind of Traitor is slow to get going. The first 100 pages consist of Perry and Gail recounting their meeting with Dima to members of the Secret Service, giving the encounter a second-hand distance that lessens its impact. The next third of the book doesn't fare much better: another 100 pages of talking, in which intelligence officers and the unlikely couple work out what they're going to do about Dima's offer to come in and tell all. At least here we also get to see the intricate connections between billions of illegal Russian dollars, the amoral London banking community, and the politicians in the pockets of both, who grease the wheels and ensure that all nests are well-feathered.

The notion that colossal amounts of illegitimate money from black-market sources have kept the banking world afloat in recent years should perhaps not be surprising, but it's still shocking to see it laid bare, and Le Carré is, as ever, adept at convincing the reader without seeming too tub-thumping about it.

The action then swings to Paris and on to Berne, as Dima desperately seeks an escape route before he's assassinated, and with the book ending on a typically downbeat note, Le Carré's disgust at the world he depicts is clear – something which has real impact despite his novel's occasional flaws.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before