I really feel like I need to explain this rating. I love John le Carre. I think he’s probably the best writer of spy thrillers ever. Coming from any other writer, this would have rated much higher, but compared to the rest of his work, Our Kind of Traitor just didn’t measure up.
During vacation on Antigua, Perry Makepeace and Gail Perkins, a young British couple, run into Russian “businessman” Dima. In spite of his apparent shadiness, they quickly become friends, bonding over hard-fought tennis matches. In no time at all, Dima entrusts the couple with information he asks them to pass on to British intelligence.
The information includes details about a large-scale money-laundering operation extending from the Russian mafia to British banking, and Dima hopes it will buy him protection from a new mob leader who has already killed his closest friend and who seems to have it in for him as well.
Upon returning to the UK, Perry and Gail duly hand over the info and quickly become enmeshed in a dangerous international operation. Between infighting among British intelligence factions, Dima’s eccentric and troubled family, and a quickly approaching deadline in Switzerland, the couple are in way over their heads.
Intelligence finally manages to make a deal in which Dima is granted safe passage to England in exchange for his information, with his family to follow once everything is verified. Unfortunately, or maybe I should say “of course,” the plane carrying Dima explodes immediately after takeoff.
And that’s all.
While it’s pretty clear that any number of people, including the Russian mafia and/or British banking interests in collusion with Intelligence, were behind the crash, most other characters are left high and dry. In particular, Perry and Gail are stranded in a Swiss chalet with Dima’s crazy wife, his pregnant, very upset 16-year-old daughter, his two teenage sons and two little girls- the daughters of his best friend who was recently killed. What will happen to all of them?
Who’s in charge? Will the Russian mob get them? Will they be given asylum in England? How will they live? How are Perry and Gail going to get out of this mess? Oh, and Gail pretty much gave up her attorney job to see this thing through. It almost makes you wonder if le Carre has a sequel planned.
I’m okay with messy, ambiguous endings, I really am. This just wasn’t even that. It just ended, as if there were pages missing.
And while I’m quibbling, I had a really hard time buying how Perry was singled out by Dima as his information “mule,” and how the whole thing on Antigua went down. Le Carre is usually so good at creating plausibility, but this one was a stretch. I just couldn’t quite believe the scenario.
In spite of my complaints, I still mostly enjoyed the book. Le Carre is expert at setting up convoluted and interesting international scenarios that leave you guessing right until the end. His characters are always well-rounded and well-drawn, even the minor ones.
Even though he probably did his best work during the Cold War (seriously, I think I bit off ALL of my fingernails and cuticles in the course of the Karla Trilogy), books like The Night Manager and The Constant Gardener still prove that he can deliver a first-class thriller. Hopefully he does it again, next time.