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This is a review of the Spectre paperback printed in 2006.
John Le Carre's 'Single and Single' was written in 1999 and was his 17th novel. It mixes elements of his traditional 'Spy Novel' with a more modern Crime/Mystery feel. I must say early on that I have never read a John Le Carre novel before and a list of mine I recently found containing authors to 'check out' contained his name fairly near the top. So off I went to the local library to see what John Le Carre they had. There was sadly no 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy', no 'Constant Gardener', no 'Russia House' and no 'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold'. Faced with no 'classics' I had little choice but to select 'Single and Single' which aside from his most recent novel 'A Most Wanted Man', was all they had. Sandwiched between 'The Tailor Of Panama' (1996) and 'The Constant Gardener' (2001) which were both made into films, 'Single and Single' is clearly a minor work.
The plot concerns Oliver Single (son of wealthy financier Tiger Single) who gets cold feet when his father becomes embroiled in money laundering with Russian gangsters. Oliver feels things are over his head and seeks the help of Nat Brock, a Customs official. I would have thought that possibly Interpol would have been a more exciting organisation to have written about (though recent Clive Owen film 'The International' disproves that theory!). The story is rather complex to follow and flits about somewhat between time frames, one minute we're in the present, then its four years ago, then we're in Oliver's childhood.
Although I don't require these sort of things to be flagged up too obviously, there is an art to shifting time frames in a novel and there's a fine line between success and confusion. I'm not sure I could pick out all the details of the plot for you without reading it again, but the gist of things is that Oliver and Brock team up to try and find Tiger who has now gone missing; suspected dead. The use of locales is interesting: Oliver has a fling in Russia, eats top cuisine in the West End and engages in a cross country chase across Turkey. Unfortunately I didn't find the plot hugely compelling, as I said there was some confusion in my mind at times as to what was going on and Le Carre spends far too much time having Brock interview a suspect (Massingham) as Oliver comes back with more pieces of the jigsaw. It became slightly wearing to begin another chapter with Brock returning to the darkened room where Massingham is being held, shining a light in his face and trying to get him to admit his role in the whole caper. Most of the characters are very cliched, particularly the women. Le Carre has several beauties fall at Oliver's feet professing their love, when his Lawyer character seemed more Perry Mason than James Bond.
Despite being written in 1999 the novel could easily have been written in the 60s with the Cold War still ringing in everyone's ears. A few throwaway modern references (for example Take That are mentioned!) does little to change the fact that this is quite an old fashioned sort of novel, fairly similar to Ian Fleming. I have no problem whatsoever with that, but it just makes me more keen to read a more highly regarded Le Carre novel, this one giving the impression that now well into his 70s Le Carre has probably had his day.
That said, once the plot got going and the hunt for Tiger was on I found some parts of the story entertaining, not enough to recommend it though. I'll certainly be be getting hold of some more well regarded Le Carre as his ability to dove tail lots of plot strands together is pretty impressive, I'll report back my findings when I do!.
Currently on Amazon UK for 1p (postage £2.75), best borrowed from a library probably. I'd feel a bit fed up if I'd spent £7.99 on this, the price in your average Waterstones. I have heard that the TV serialisation of both 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' and 'Smiley's People', with Alec Guinness as George Smiley, are both excellent so I might look at those as well.