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January 2019



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Our Kind of Traitor, John le Carré

I picked this up at a jumble sale, with several other ‘read and then give away’ books. The premise is one common to spy and thriller stories: innocent people get caught up in international intrigue. In this case it’s a young couple, he a don and she a barrister. They’re holidaying on Antigua when a Russian money launderer approaches them to arrange his resettlement in England in return for information. Anyone with any sense would of course run a mile, or at least get the next plane back home, but then there’d be no story. Once they’ve contacted the right people in England, Perry and Gail are in it up to their necks. The willingness of people in the Service to put the lives of others at risk is mind boggling. It reminds me of Peter Cook in the famous sketch from Beyond the Fringe: ‘Goodbye, Perkins. Don’t come back.’

This sorry tale of corrupt Western politicians, bankers, lawyers and EU officials colluding with Russian oligarchs and criminal gangs ought to be shocking, yet somehow isn’t. We know all this stuff, although we pretend we don’t. As long as we own houses, have money in a bank and a pension fund, we’re all complicit and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. I found the book sadly lacking in tension, rather boring in fact, and I think A Most Wanted Man was better.

In contrast, the book by Helen MacInnes which I read most recently, Prelude to Terror (1978) was gripping. It’s a cold war thriller set in Vienna, which also features chases, mountain hideouts and how to throw a pursuer off your trail. Robert Goddard is another author who keeps you turning the pages faster and faster. It seems unfair that these writers, although popular, aren’t taken seriously, whereas le Carré gets proper reviews and each new book is hailed as ‘masterly’.


I didn't get on with that Le Carre very well either. I prefer the early ones and A Perfect Spy. Love the Macinnes too - so suspenseful - and as you say Robert Goddard doesn't let you down. I can only admire!
I haven't read A Perfect Spy but loved the TV series. Hmm, I have an Amazon voucher ...

Le Carre

I did like the snide reference to George Osborne.
I just finished a Helen MacInnes book today - Neither Five Nor Three, a suspenseful page-turner about the US at the start of the fifties waking up to the threat of Communist propoganda. It was interesting to read about an earlier, different perspective on what is known by now as McCarthy's excesses.

I've never read le Carre or Goddard.
Ooh, a Helen MacInnes I haven't read! Must look out for it. I like Robert Goddard a lot for a can't-put-it-down read when you need one. I'd miss the first one and go for the trilogy which begins with Into the Blue.