cover image Single & Single

Single & Single

John Le Carre. Scribner, $26 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-684-85926-2

The unusual title of le Carre's latest book is the name of a London family firm whose members seem to be investment bankers, but of a very peculiar and contemporary sort. In fact, they work with the kind of people--Russian gangsters, Swiss lawyers, creators of dummy corporations around the world--that specialize in making big money out of drugs and arms, and laundering the proceeds. The firm is run by Tiger Single, a modern buccaneer who wants his son, Oliver, to move up in the business. But in a repeat of the kind of father-son conflict in The Honorable Schoolboy, Oliver is turning against everything his father stands for, and has begun to talk to H.M. Customs about the firm's activities. Eventually, as the Russians and their henchmen turn nasty and try to take over Single's empire, Oliver must decide where his loyalties really lie. The tale is energized by le Carre's breathtaking versatility with settings and voices, and his authoritative portrayal of the way things are done in the shifty world succeeding his former Cold War preoccupations. The problem is that, despite a gripping start and many incidental pleasures along the way, neither Oliver nor his father quite come into focus the way so many of the characters did in le Carre's last, The Tailor of Panama. There is something a little forced about Oliver, his adored baby daughter, his budding affection for agent Aggie; even Brock, the determined Customs agent forever on Tiger's trail, seems shadowy, and the denouement is unusually perfunctory for a le Carre novel. Not by any means his best effort--but even at less than full stretch, le Carre is never less than a riveting writer. BOMC main selection. (Mar.)