A crooked father and an honest son are the protagonists of this novel on money laundering. The father is Tiger Single, owner of a British investment house, laundering money for criminals. His dream is to see his son follow in his footsteps, but the son is honest and will not have anything to do with him--until the father's life is threatened.
Oliver Single, son of international "entrepreneur" Tiger Single, is just shocked to find out that his father has built his finance firm by facilitating some pretty shady practices. So Single the younger goes to the authorities, etc., who put him through the witness relocation/new life kind of thing.
A few years later a major deal goes bad for dad, who ends up disappearing ... has he just gone to ground? Do the evil Georgians have him? Single Jr., wallowing in Oedipal nuttiness, hooks up with some of England's finest to save the day!
But really, ol' Tiger is just another international high-finance criminal w/o a "single" redeeming quality, so why should we care about him again?
Ollie, on the other hand, must have something going on ... he's able to get two highly unlikely women to fall in love with him based pretty much on ... nothing. And let's not even mention Oliver's elder/perfect brother, dad's favorite, who conveniently died of leukemia before being able to grow up and take the reins at Single.
Sigh. Somewhere, George Smiley is rolling in his grave.
Single & Single is headed by Tiger, a self-made man who enjoys immensely the power of his position and the great wealth it confers. His pride is his son Oliver whom he considers the heir apparent, but when Oliver discovers the true purpose of the company, he turns informant and then disappears into a witness protection program. Not informant enough to bring Tiger down, but enough to whet the appetite of Nat Brock of HM Customs Service, and someone determined to root out the dishonest among politicians and officials of all stripes. But Oliver's cover is blown and then he discovers that Single & Single is besieged and collapsing and that his father is in great personal danger. Throughout Oliver is beset by conflicting emotions: he does not doubt that he did the right thing in turning to the authorities, and as much as despises what his father represents, and even the person he is, he cannot deny the filial bond and so he risks his life in tracking his father down to the lair of the enemy in a mounting climax to the story. And there, I think, Oliver is able to exorcise the ghosts once and for all. As he talks and argues with Georgian criminals holding his father who cannot resist trying to commandeer the discussion, Oliver realizes:
You have revealed the full scale of your immense, infinite nothingness. At the brink of death, you have nothing to plead but your stupefying triviality.
And at the end:
The answer was as clear to him as the question. That he had found it, and it didn't exist. He had arrived at the last, most hidden room of his search, he had prized open the most top-secret box, and it was empty. Tiger's secret was that he had no secret.
Much has been made in reviews about the fact that Le Carré did not get along with his own father who was a con man and swindler who deserted his family. Maybe this novel was cathartic for him. It certainly deals with betrayal, but the betrayal is on both sides: Oliver's is against his father in the "real world" of police and authorities; Tiger's is against the morality that Oliver feels. So does the latter justify the former? I think Le Carré says it does. This is not Le Carré at his best, and the ending is a little hollywood in style, but it is still a good read.
A corporate lawyer from the House of Single &Single is shot dead on a Turkish hillside for crimes that he does not understand. A children’s entertainer in Devon is hauled to his local bank late at night to explain a monumental influx of cash. A Russian freighter is arrested in the Black Sea....
The logical connection of these events and more is one of the many pleasures of this story of love, deceit, family and the triumph of humanity.
Single & Single are a firm of financial enablers. Among their clients are the Russian capitalists, the Orlov family, out to make quick roubles. Their biggest scheme so far is the sale of "clean caucasoid" blood to the West. Money managers, the House of Single, Tiger Single, the senior partner, with his son Oliver, are set to reap a fortune. However events impair the smooth flow of cash, and the Russian partners turn to a new means of profit-making, drugs. As a lawyer in a financial management organisation, Oliver draws the line at drugs. It jeopardizes the future of the firm, and his own. He informs on his father to British government officials in the hope of cutting a deal. It takes four years for the government to act, and then their actions result in Tiger's disappearance. But it seems that Oliver was not the only one to betray Tiger.
This was not an easy story to listen to, although narrated extremely well by Michael Jayston. The event with which the story opens, the death of Albert Wincer, really comes midway in the plot, and from that point on Le Carre feeds the reader tidbits, almost in the style of jigsaw puzzle pieces plucked randomly from the box. Sometimes the bits fit, and at other times we have to mentally set them aside for later use. If this was a held-in-the-hand paper book the reader would have the advantage of flipping backwards and forwards, re-reading bits, but you can't do that with an audio.
One of the things that other reviewers have commented on is the fact that at the end it felt as if Le Carre could not get shut of the reader quickly enough. However I had made up my mind about my rating well before that. Perhaps I would have liked it better if I was "reading" it in another format. I may not have had the continuity problems that I referred to earlier. The story did have redeeming features: interesting characters, and good exploration of the relationships between them.