cover image Our Game

Our Game

John Le Carre. Alfred A Knopf Inc, $24 (301pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44189-2

Le Carre continues to stay ahead of the news, and his latest novel set in the post-Soviet world is smashingly up-to-date, involving nothing less than a desperate breakaway attempt by Chechnya and the murky international dealings that accompany it. His narrator is Tim Cranmer, former secret agent turned winemaker in rural Somerset. Tim's great espionage success was the recruiting of brilliant gadfly Larry Pettifer, who ended up not only stealing Tim's beautiful mistress, the enigmatic Emma, but also disappearing, apparently with a fortune lifted from Russian banks to aid the rebels through shady arms deals. Now the police are looking for Larry, the ``Office'' is convinced Cranmer must be in on his schemes, and, using all his old spycraft, he sets out to find Larry and Emma. To warn them? To win Emma back? To find out what really happened? To redeem what he increasingly sees as his own shabby, evasive life? The author creates a brilliantly complex character in Tim Cranmer; but such is his skill as a narrator--as always, le Carre's dialogue and scene-setting are incomparable--that it is impossible not to empathize strongly with him, and as a result to feel profound ambivalence about Emma and Larry and their many betrayals. The surprising and bitter ending seems to resolve nothing, leaving only a harsh taste of the Western betrayal of ideals of freedom. Le Carre is moving into much tougher territory than his old smooth, sophisticated spy yarns, and readers must become accustomed to increasing ambiguities. Our Game entirely lacks the dazzling action sequences and intricate plotting of The Night Manager, but it cuts even more deeply into the dour contemporary world. 350,000 first printing; BOMC main selection; Random House audio book. (Mar.)