If you like your book reviews scrupulously objective and coldly rational, I’m afraid You will need to look elsewhere, because this is one of my favorite authors, not just in the genre of espionage, but because of his supreme writing craftsmanship.
I will admit that the books that involve George Smiley are my favorites, but considering the esteem in which I hold John Le Carre, that isn’t saying too much. His more recent books seem to be varying treatments of a repeating theme. It goes something like this.
Innocent, usually idealistic, nonprofessional gets drawn into and entangled in a situation of interest to an espionage service (not always British), and is used to accomplish a specific goal. Invariably, this person becomes a pawn, and the result is often either deadly or emotionally devastating.
JLC’s treatment of the professional services is often bitterly cynical, yet his treatment of some of the operatives within those services is sensitive, even compassionate. He recognizes that all organizations are formed by people, not machines, and that motivations and moral stances are wide ranging.
In this book, we see our innocents abroad (as they are often called within the story), yet these innocents are smart, capable, and demonstrate an extremely high level of creative efficiency. We also get to look into the world of the Russian Mafia, meet a uniquely wonderful, If somewhat dysfunctional family, and come to know, and sympathize with a criminal who wants to turn whistle blower, and get himself and his family safely to England.
Dima Krasnov is an exuberantly unrepentant reprobate, who makes no apologies or excuses for his criminal past. However, he has his own code of honor, and something happened which he will not forgive, and he has decided that defecting is the way in which he will take his revenge.
There are, of course, British political and diplomatic considerations that complicate things, not to mention the internecine power struggles within the service itself.
The entrapped victims are not just Dima, but his family, the young nonprofessionals who must become professionals (and do) in a hurry, but also some of the professionals of the service. Each of these victims is manipulated and exploited in many ways, and each reacts differently.
I like this book for the same reasons I like most of Le Carre’s books. Some of the characters are sympathetic, and even admirable. All of the characters are drawn with a very fine and revealing brush; uniquely human and believable without falling into stereotypes, heroic or otherwise.
The story is well and intricately plotted, never drags, and stays fresh and interesting without having to rely either on graphic violence or explicit sex scenes to hold a reader’s interest, and as always, the writing is absolutely superb.