I’ve never read any John le Carré. Strange, I think – I’m a huge fan of spy novels, especially well written ones… but I’ve never had the impetus to actually go beyond thinking “oh, I ought to read some le Carré” until his newest novel came out and I was in the mood and then it was in my hand and that’s how that goes, I suppose.
The end of the Cold War was, honestly, the worst thing to happen to the spy genre. Modern Bond, Bourne, all of those guys… they’re great, sure, but they don’t hold a candle to the Fleming Bond, the gentlemen spies facing off against the Reds, etc. Nowadays, there aren’t really such opportunities. I mean, look at the last Bond film. Our villains today go for banking, controlling water, etc. As a result, spy novels can be a little hard to stomach without getting drowsy. However, I was happy to find that Our Kind of Traitor was only a little drowsy and was actually mostly exciting. Mostly.
The main characters, if you can call them that, are Gail and Perry – two young(ish) British lovers. They are quite stereotypical, I have to admit – Gail is the perky sexy young barrister-on-the-rise, Perry the slightly goofy but charming and strong academic. Still, I enjoyed spending time with them, so I suppose the stereotype doesn’t matter too much. In fact, when the story left them and moved to Luke (one of the British Intelligence chaps), I found myself missing them something fierce. The pieces of the story where it became procedural (again, mostly with Luke) were the worst parts – because Gail and Perry were average ordinary people pulled unexpectedly into this world of deception and sabotage.
I was tense, to be sure, throughout the whole thing – not because of the “major” threat on the line (financial messing about) but because these individual people were at risk. These ordinary people were suddenly extraordinary but that sort of super-jolt doesn’t come easily – yes, Perry wants to transform into the All-English chap that he thinks he should be, but he can’t entirely get there. The toll on Gail is more than she ever expected. It’s all impressively handled, that little-detail stuff.
The ending was actually probably my favorite part. From Dima’s extraction onward, really. And it ends with such a note of exact finality but at the same time such an open-endedness… it was impressive how he had the balls, really, to end the book like that. I mean, that was great. Sadly, the rest of the book never comes off as much more than “well, that was pretty good.”
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. This is a four side of 3.5 kind of book – its good, just not great. It’s interesting but not terribly magnificent. It falls on the good side of the spectrum, even a little MORE than good… but it doesn’t really have the punch to level up to great. Would I be interested in reading more of his books? Sure. Will I? If the mood strikes me – but I can’t say I’m running out to get them.