Our kind of traitor

by John Le Carré

Paper Book, 2010

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Viking, 2010.

Description

While on holiday in Antigua with his barrister girlfriend, a young Oxford academic crosses paths with a Russian millionaire with Mafia connections who wants the young lovers to do something for him. Soon the guileless couple find themselves pawns in a deadly endgame whose outcome will be determined by the British Secret Service.

Media reviews

Le Carré describes a shifting world where mobsters can be of use to the government, where the Secret Service doesn't care whom it sacrifices—British citizens or parts of itself—to reel in their quarry, and where the rule of law, or even what is considered to be legal, won't always apply.
4 more
Our Kind of Traitor is on an uplifting and pleasingly-familiar course, though it is one that confirms the depths of the author’s discomfort and anger at the world.
Somerset Maugham, another writer of dark spy stories, once had a character say of an aspiring grand old man of letters: "It is no good his thinking that it is enough to write one or two masterpieces; he must provide a pedestal for them of forty or fifty works of no particular consequence." Our Kind of Traitor may fall into the second category, but it's good to see Le Carré having fun as he reinforces the pedestal under his classic productions.
Publishers Weekly
His most accessible work in years, this novel shows once again why his name is the one to which all others in the field are compared.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Hagelstein
With Our Kind of Traitor John LeCarre has combined elements of crime and espionage fiction in one novel. A Russian money launderer meets a British couple in Antigua and expresses a desire to tell British Intelligence all he knows, which involves British politicians, in exchange for resettlement in England for himself and his extended family. The result is intrigue and betrayal at high levels.

The characters are all exquisitely portrayed, the plot is crisp, and LeCarre leaves more questions than answers at the end, which is a nice change from a neatly wrapped package.
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LibraryThing member WillyMammoth
Our Kind of Traitor is the story of university professor Perry Makepiece and his girlfriend barrister Gale Perkins and their involvement with Dima, a Russian criminal and money launderer. They meet Dima and his family while on holiday in Antigua at a tennis resort, where the bearish Russian ingratiates himself upon them with family beach outings and tennis matches. Dima eventually requests that Perry and Gale act as a go-between for him with the British government and reveals that he is the brains behind an international money laundering scheme cooked up by Russian organized crime. They take the information back to MI6 (or whichever agency it is--I don't think Le Carre ever says exactly), where they present documents detailing Dima's money laundering business as well as the banking scams that several leading British citizens are involved in with the Russian "bankers" Dima represents. Dima, of course, has his own reasons for wanting to jump ship and insists that his family be taken care of as well. There are several more sub-plots and character details, but that's the gist of it. The rest of the book depicts Perry and Gale's involvement with bringing Dima over to the other side, as well as the British agents they work with in order to make it happen.

How all this comes together is a little confusing. The story is initially told in a disjointed fashion as Gale and Perry retell their meeting with Dima and his family to their MI6 handlers. Plus, the POV shifts a little too much for my taste--first Perry, then Gale, then Luke (one of the handlers). The POV ADD settles down about halfway through the book, and while it may have been a bit of a nuisance for me, it played well in to le Carre's overall purpose of the book.

You see, I don't think le Carre intended to write an espionage thriller. Of course, that's what he's known for in literary circles, but Our Kind of Traitor wasn't really all that thrilling. The plot is rather thin, and there's nothing particularly groundbreaking or riveting about it. But the book really shines with character development. le Carre develops well rounded, believable, dynamic characters. By the end of the book you'll feel as if Perry and Gale and even the MI6 crowd are people that quite probably do exist in real life. And with a novelist as undeniably skilled as le Carre, I have to believe that this was his goal--to focus more on character development in lieu of plot and intrigue. And that's the key if you're going to enjoy this book. You have to go into it with the expectation that you'll be reading a character study or a more benign novel that focuses on the development of personal relationships, because really, that's what the book is about. It's definitely not a spy thriller as le Carre's bibliography might lead you to believe.

The end is also very realistic, but it's also dissatisfying. I'll withhold the details so as not to spoil it for anyone thinking of reading the book (if you're dying to know, Wikipedia can tell you all); however, suffice to say that much of the conflict and tension in the novel--the struggle to get Dima's family to a safe place out of the clutches of his criminal masters--is not satisfactorily concluded. It's left hanging, and beyond a small summation with very few concrete details, it's left, I suppose, up to the reader to decide.

Given all of this, the novel felt to me kind of... halfway finished. It simply doesn't include all the facets to make it a well-rounded novel. It's as if le Carre wanted to experiment a little, wound up with something that was pretty good but not quite there, and his publishers went ahead and published it anyway (because let's face it--if it has "le Carre" on the cover, it's going to sell a hundred thousand copies even if the entire novel is a five year old's treatise on why Hot Wheels cars are the coolest). I enjoyed the novel, but I can't really recommend it to anyone else because, as far as le Carre goes, it's just not on par with his other works.
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LibraryThing member wirtley
Horrible spy novel. Uses only one sentence in a paragraph. Sentences are long winded. No fun to read.
LibraryThing member dham340
Very typical Le carre : tough read, layered and dark.

An acquired taste.
LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
I read an advanced uncorrected proof. The book is written with some lighthearted humor and a great deal of suspense. Until the final pages, I was really not sure of the outcome or even the actual nature of the plot! However, I could not stop reading it, so psychologically, the writing style worked for me. I wanted to keep reading even though the details sometimes became overbearing and the path to the plot, often indecipherable. I needed to find out the conclusion.
A young British couple, on a much deserved vacation, hoping to define their own relationship and decide on whether or not their future is with each other, unwittingly meet a master money launderer and stumble into a secret financial crisis which involves them into the hidden world of British spies and the Russian mob.
The book is very timely as it takes place in the present day with mention of current politicians and events that have recently occurred. The mystery itself evolves around the current financial crisis. It is, however, very fragmented and, as I wrote, until the final pages, the entire plot is not exposed. Although there is some finality, in the conclusion, there are still many questions about some of the characters, that remain unanswered and are left for the reader to decide. It made me wonder if perhaps there would be a sequel.
Our Kind Of Traitor is a tale of corrupt politicians, spy organizations that manipulate information for their own benefit, criminals and criminal governments, lies, payoffs, murder and mayhem, bribes, manipulation and coercion, really dirty politics, cheating and government-sponsored mobs.
In the tale, and I fear in real life, in this world of secrecy, the end justifies the means regardless of the consequences and the means are often highly questionable with the results being even more so.
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LibraryThing member reading_fox
Le Carre back into the old style of writing. It's a short book, but slow and full of tension.

Perry and Gina are innocent brits abroad. When they're approched on the tennis court by a friendly russian it's hard to say no. However the favour he asks for is stranger than they imagine, and soon they are meeting his widely extended family, of various 'uncles' and some very vulnerable children. Perry contacts some 'friends' in London, and the usual inter-agency squabbling ignites.

I like le Carre's writing, although he is not very direct when it comes to making his point, a lot of his more recent work is enjoyably cycnical regarding the operation of modern governement, and businesses. This is another such installment. From the final third of the book on you know what is going to happen, you read each page engrossed waiting for the shoe to drop, waiting, and waiting. Like the true masterteller he is, with empecable timing, does Le Carre deliever the ending you bothe expected and feared.

However this bvook doe slack the complexity of many of his better works, you only get to see one side of the argument, the assupmtions about the other, are all left to the reader. And while obvious, it doesn't provide the grey moral ambiguities that make a book superb. Likewise all the political infighting occurs behind closed doors, only the results are imparted by the boss to his leutenants. Although Gail and Perry start out well, they too quickly lose their qualms and end up devoting far too much of their time to a problem that they'd agreed was not any of their business. I could have understood this if they'd acted a bit more indeceive. But they don't.

Overall, le Carre is not at his very best form in this one, but it's still enjoyable, and far from bad.
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LibraryThing member antao
(original review, 2010)

About a third of the way through “Our Kind of Traitor”, I sat back and reflected on the elegance of the prose and the grace and ease with which the narrative moved back and forth through time, and two words came inescapably to mind: Joseph Conrad. I can't believe, after all the le Carré novels I had already read at that point, that this was the first time the comparison ever occurred to me, but there it is.

In a way, though, it's fitting that the realization came with that book: "Our Kind of Traitor" is an elegant novel, certainly an accomplished bit of storytelling, but I don't think anyone will ever rank it alongside “Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy” or “The Constant Gardener”. Yet I savored the book for the skill and grace with which it was written. This is what distinguishes Le Carré from somebody like Michael Crichton: he can be read with pleasure simply for the quality of his writing. Crichton is a wonderfully efficient storyteller, and as long as he's got a good tale to tell, he can be great fun to read. What he does is not easy, and at his best he does it very, very well. But I could never imagine sitting back, after reading a page of any one of his books, and simply savoring the language for its own sake. With John le Carré I find myself doing this all the time -- as I do with Raymond Chandler, another truly great writer who happened to work in "genre fiction".

Conrad was probably the originator of the literary thriller in which a compromised, emotionally tormented male protagonist, an anti-hero no less in the true sense, is placed centre-stage, in a morally ambiguous setting with all sorts of dark shades. And that is very much Le Carre’s model too.

It’s so very sharp and proficient (as, of course, is the plotting and structure). Some Le Carré detractors grumble about clichés and typical thriller language, but as far as I’m concerned (and I am, admittedly, a very big fan) they are only demonstrating their own philistinism in doing so. He does use the kind of colloquialisms and set phrases that you could dismiss as clichés elsewhere, but half of them he’s invented himself, and the other half he is using knowingly, with perfect confidence. There is nothing wrong with clichés if the writer is good enough to shepherd them around the page exactly as he wants, to be their master. They are only a problem if the writer isn’t good enough, and they come blundering in unbidden and out of control, often in the midst of pretentiously considered sentences. Le Carré, obviously, is plenty good enough. The pacing, the tone: it's all just brilliant, and as a literary device, the way the protagonist retreats deeper into his own repressed psychology as his own physical horizons are narrowed down and down is ever so clever. Love it; absolutely love it.

I think le Carré is seen as transcending the genre because he creates a world which is very believable even though I am sure that the Circus bears no resemblance to Britain's SIS. For a certain type of high minded reader who frets about such things, books that feature stuff that manifestly don't exist (dragons, amateur detectives, starships) are bothersome. They smell of flippancy and a departure from seriousness and worthiness which is not really acceptable to a reader who views reading as a stern and proper undertaking like a Calvinist at prayer. And I love SF...

SF = Speculative Fiction.
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LibraryThing member otterley
Hotshot Oxford don and his gorgeous brainy lawyer girlfriend get unwittingly caught up in a tale of power, money, violence and corruption that ends up with a lot of collateral damage taking place. Le Carre's conspiracy theories are scarily believable and the move to borderless crime, motivated entirely by money without even the pretence of ideology, is chilling and convincing.… (more)
LibraryThing member fromkin
LeCarre's cynicism runs deep, more so than I can recall in a while, right until the final betrayal. Throughout the read, I wondered who "our kind of traitor might be." Dima, the Russian career criminal; Perry, the academic and tennis player; Gail, his beautiful girlfriend and attorney; Luke, the compromised SIS agent; or Hector, running Dina's exfiltration operation. None of the above. It's England. One longs for George Smiley, but there apparently are none left in the lists. Just people with murky motivations, and some with noble virtues, mucking along as best they can against a system so corrupt they don't even realize it is. Our Kind of Traitor is a good read, more involving than A Most Wanted Man,The Constant Gardener, and The Tailor of Panama. I think LeCarre's hitting a new stride. Here's hoping his next novel continues in a long upward trajectory.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lisianthus
John le Carré is one of the major figures in the contemporary literary scene. His language is just fantastic, with such a felicitous turn of phrase, surprisingly apt metaphors and unusual structures. A treat to read even for those not too much into espionage...
LibraryThing member Chris469
Another good one by Le Carre. He excels at character development and he gives us some good ones in this yarn. Narrative arrangement is nice; framed out of time sequence and through varying perspectives. Shows that Le Carre not just "mailing it in" at this late point of his long career. Plot details to some extent just a variation on the usual themes of his stories, but that's OK. As with his other tales, this one tends to paint a somewhat disturbing and depressing view of the powers that be in our modern world.… (more)
LibraryThing member Doondeck
A very typical leCarre work: an unusual cast of characters well portrayed and a story of ultimate failure. Dima was especially interesting.
LibraryThing member Clara53
Entertaining and enlightening, albeit in a dark way. Very sharp, smart writing - you don't want to miss a line, even inadvertently. Wry British wit. The ending was disappointing, in a way. Expected anything but that...
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
Very disappointing - I would be hard-pushed to say whether it was more tedious than it was inconsequential or vice versatile. The characters were lamentably lacking in any of the patina of plausibility that le Carre usually renders so effortlessly and I found it impossible to summon any interest at all in what might befall them.
A sad falling off from an author who has, hitherto, been so rewarding to his loyal readers.
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LibraryThing member neddludd
This is middling stuff. Le Carre, in his off books, tends to let his language games interfere with the narrative, and that's true here. See the pyrotechnic dialogue and descriptives, as if le Carre was teaching a master class rather than writing a credible work of espionage. The main Russian character, and his family are well-drawn, as are the British dilletantes who are drawn into the adventure. The weakness lies in the British service characters. They are more carricatures, except for one mid-level worker bee. Disappointing and disjointed and cynical in the extreme. More work than fun.… (more)
LibraryThing member johnthefireman
Very English, in a way. Comfortable at times, very disconcerting at others. I don't think Le Carre's newer works match The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Smiley's People, but he still tells a gripping and enthralling spy story.
LibraryThing member YogiABB
"Our Kind of Traitor" is the latest John le Carre book and like some of his earlier books it is about the Russians and the British. Except now it is Russian money launderers that the British are concerned about. A Russian wants to defect to Britain with his family. But you know they may not let him. He has to prove that he is worth it. The British spies have to prove to their government that he is worth it.

You know, John le Carre is a great writer and his books are very interesting but the ones I've read couldn't really have been called thrillers. They were good but most of the action takes place off stage. This book is a thriller. It takes a while to build up but when it does it is riveting.

Plus the moral ambiguity is fascinating. Have you ever been in a position where you don't know who you could trust. Or maybe you trust the guy you are dealing with but are not sure about the people he is dealing with, who happen to be the real decision makers. But at the same time you have to commit or not. Have you? This book is all about that.
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LibraryThing member SlySionnach
I've never read any of John le Carre's novels but from what I've seen reviews of, this isn't even his best. So to say that it makes me want to read more of his work is a testament to the novel.

Gail and Perry, a lawyer and a teacher, decide to take a romantic trip to Antigua. There they meet a man named Dima and his family. In no time at all, they find themselves buried in international secrets and dealing with the Service. How much can two non-spies help?

The novel is written in an odd way. In some segments, there's a frame story. Some are in first person. Others are in 3rd. Some present tense, some past tense. We bounce around first between Perry and Gail, then over to one of the three agents that work with them. Despite what I thought, it really makes for a quick read.

The story itself was engaging. You wanted to know what happened to Perry, Gail and Dima. You wanted to see if everything would turn out alright and how the subplots ended up. Though I found myself a bit ambivalent toward Natasha's story, I still wanted to figure out just what happened.

Which brings me into something I didn't like so much - his characterization of the females in the novel. They were all GORGEOUS except for the god-loving Tamara. Every male character commented on how beautiful Gail was and I feel like she was there more for beauty than for her brains. She's a lawyer and the only time it really comes up is when she has to sign something. Sometimes, she even seems a bit flighty. Though, I did appreciate her aggrivation at her treatment as the "weaker sex" during certain points.

The ending came about as I expected it to. Using something that is literally from the newspapers made it that way, but it also gives the story a more realistic depth that I think readers of this type of fiction could appreciate.

(Disclaimer: I received this book as an advanced uncorrected proof from Viking)
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LibraryThing member Warriapendibookclub
Before we started the book discussion we decided that the Group would donate $150.00 to the Queensland Flood Relief appeal. Lorita will organise it.

Lynn chose this book because we had enjoyed reading other John le Carre books and it was his latest. She thought we might need some light reading for the Christmas holidays. She didn't find it very engaging and felt he didn't finish it off very well. What happened to the family? Plot got lost in the middle, it was a bit disappointing.
Others:
Enjoyed it but it was a bit disappointing in the middle. Maybe the author is getting old! It was easy to read but all over the show. Was he trying to do something different? Was Perry going to go after Max? What happened in the middle? It was not realistic that Gail should suddenly become maternal and know how to handle children so well!It was cliched and undeveloped. Not nearly enough development of the characters. Good read, kept me interested. The end was too abrupt it was left to your imagination.

5,5,6,6,6,8,8,7,7,7,5 ( 6.36 average )
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LibraryThing member rmacd47
Dull and predictable.
LibraryThing member ArtRodrigues
I have read most of Le Carre's novels and have always enjoyed them. That said, it has been difficult for me to get past the greatness of the Smiley trilogy. Our Kind of Traitor falls in the category of the post cold war Le Carre novel. The story, as usual, is the product of mastercraftsman, who builds his characters and slowly leads us along, tension building along the way. Unfortunately, the post-Smiley stories are tending to fall into a pattern with predictable end. It is almost inevitable that the central character, in this case the Russian money launderer Dima, is doomed from the start. The only uncertainty is who he will take down with him. In addition, the portrait of the British spy service is one were the guys with good intentions are doomed to fail victim to the overwhelming force of evil that have penetrated its ranks. It's hard not wander away from this book depressed. I wonder what Le Carre would produce if he deviated from this pattern in his next work. Great writers should not be this predictable.… (more)
LibraryThing member malcrf
The characters seemed more like caricatures, and the plot meandered and rather fizzled out. Not really a favourite
LibraryThing member herschelian
At last John le Carre seems to be getting back on form. His previous three books were not up to the standard of his glory days writing about the Cold War, and although Our Kind of Traitor does not reach thstandards of the Smiley/Karla books, he seems to have found a new area of spying that is up-to-date and up his street. This book kept me hooked and he really started developing some interesting characters, of whom I'm sure we'll learn more in subsequent books. The cynical commercialisation of government and its departments was all too believable. The ending left enough ambiguity to make me want a follow-up.… (more)
LibraryThing member TonyMilner
Well I enjoyed 2/3 of the book. The trouble is Le Carré didn't bother to write the other 1/3. I don't mind downbeat endings, and have got used to them in other recent le Carré novels, But this seemed more like he got bored with the book and characters and just finished it as fast as possible. In some ways it rather reminds me of childhood story writing - when I got rather confused by my own plot and/or bored of writing I would sign off "and then I woke up". Not that the plot is at all difficult to follow in this novel - rather it seems to be more about the characters, which is why the seeming loss of interest in them towards the end is such a let-down.… (more)
LibraryThing member Daftboy1
This book is very well written, it jumps between the characters lifes effortlessly. Your never sure who you can trust.
Keeps you guessing what is going to happen.
Glad I read this book.

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