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Single & Single

Reviewed: December 4, 2005
By: John le Carre
Publisher: Penguin Books
449 pages, $10.99

A good many of John le Carreís novels deal, in one way or another, with the very difficult relationship that David Cornwell had with his con-man father. le Carre dealt with this quite specifically in A Perfect Spy (1986), but itís hard not to see another version of that story in this 1999 novel, in which a father and son are actually pitted against each other for part of the tale and then the son, Oliver, has to track down and rescue his dad from the Russian mafiosi who have kidnapped him.

None of this is clear from the outset. Oliver, it emerges, is in some sort of witness protection program, having finally revolted from the business he had grown up in under the watchful eye of his roguish father. Single & Single, you see, trade on the international market. They expedite things, and a good many of their clients are less than A-list citizens.

Proving once again that the collapse of the Cold War actually opened up more plots for thriller writers, le Carre takes us on a tour of the low-end trading business, providing the back story to the main event by having Oliver recall the workings of ďTigerĒ Singleís affairs, sometimes while brooding about his own betrayal, sometimes while answering questions posed by a dogged copper named Brock.

Brock wants to put Tiger away. Oliver doesnít object too much to that, but first he wants to save his fatherís life. He feels itís the least he can do. Torn between his disgust at Tigerís illegal activities and his disgust with himself for playing Judas, Oliver has to fool the cops and the crooks in order to accomplish his goal, and he couldnít have managed it without some help - but you can read all about that.

I was put off le Carre for a spell after the depressing book and movie versions of The Tailor of Panama. Thatís why Single & Single sat on my shelf for so long. Iím glad I finally got around to taking it down.

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