A lawyer from the London finance house of Single & Single is shot dead on a Turkish hillside by people with whom he thought he was in business. A children's magician is asked by his bank to explain the unsolicited arrival of more than five million pounds sterling in his young daughter's modest trust. A freighter bound for Liverpool is boarded by Russian coast guards in the Black Sea. The celebrated London merchant venturer "Tiger" Single disappears into thin air.
In Single & Single the writer who both epitomizes and transcends the novel of espionage opens with a haunting set piece, then establishes a sequence of events whose connections are mysterious, complex, and compelling. This is a story of corrupt liaisons between criminal elements in the new Russian states and the world of legitimate finance in the West. Le Carré's finest novel in years, it is also an intimate portrait of two families: one Russian, the other English; one trading illicit goods, the other laundering the profits; one betrayed by a son-in-law, the other betrayed, and redeemed, by a son.
This is territory le Carré knows better than anyone. Masterful and prescient, he is writing at the top of his creative powers, and Oliver Single, the central protagonist, is one of his most fascinating characters yet.
©1999 John le Carre (P)2012 Simon & Schuster
"Le Carré reveals a world at once deeply disquieting and oddly reassuring." (People)
"Any reader who feared that the end of the Cold War would deprive Mr. le Carré of his subject can now feel a measure of relief. If anything, his subject of East-West misunderstanding has grown richer, and he now possesses vast new territories to mine." (The New York Times)
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
I wish I could claim credit for the catchy title/phrase: The spy who came back to the bank., but it has Mr. Moneyball* written all over it.
After reading and reviewing Our Kind of Traitor, I kept being drawn back to Single & Single, a le Carré I listened to and read last year, but never actually got around to reviewing. Both Single & Single & Our Kind of Traitor are part of le Carré's banking/black-market brand of post-Soviet spy fiction. Certainly not everyone's genre jam, but being a finance guy myself, I kinda dig 'em.
Anywho, this is one of those post-Cold War, pre-Iraq war novels where le Carré emerges as not just the grand master of spy fiction, but as perhaps the grand master of both the Cold War and the Ambiguous Thaw. He was noticing in the late 90s what a lot of the rest of us only figured clearly out a few years into the War in Iraq. Those who are guarding the BIG secrets, might not be the most trustworthy people around.
I love how le Carré plays around too. He isn't just angry, he is also clever and confident. Part of me really wants to believe that in the beginning of Single & Single, the gun that both exists and doesn't exist seems like a twist on Chekhov's gun. Let's call it Schrödinger's gun. Ladies and gentlemen of the court, this gun both exists and it doesn't. This gun that shows up in Scene I has already gone off, or perhaps it hasn't. No need for Chekhov. No need for Chekhov's gun. Everyone please keep your juried seats. As the big C once said, "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep." During this stage of le Carré's career, it seems like THAT is all he wanted to do. Break promises. Break with the past. Show you the gun, and the write a whole damn book about ignoring it.
* Michael Lewis
John le Carre is a master at knowing when to cut a scene and what to leave out, how to give just enough information to make you pay attention and figure things out. The way he layers out information can be as puzzling as life but not so puzzling that, even listening, you can't keep track. Except with this book. I recommend it as a book to read rather than to hear because it jumps around in time and place so quickly and frequently that the listener is constantly playing catch-up, especially if you listen while doing something else and your attention is split.
Those who find the book fully absorbing might be OK with it. It's harder to follow the narrative thread if you're not invested in the main character, Oliver Single. He's a cipher, a blank slate on which others write. That's his purpose in the book. He might summon up some backbone in the end--I won't know until I get a hard copy from the library and finish reading with my eyes instead of my ears.
The main strength is that Michael Jayston is such a good narrator that you will know who is talking even when you don't know where or when the scene is occurring.
A common thread that would have connected the story line.
Normally I can follow a le Carre plot but not this one and I've either read or listened to 6 or 7of his books. I’m not sure I will spend my money on another. I think I’ll return this one for credit. I’m very sorry I wasted my time.
Don't know how he followed the plot.
Always love how le Carre expresses the snobbery of the upper class Brits.
Don't waste your time on this one.
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