Our Game

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					The 1991 "Our Game" is a standalone post cold war spy story by the British spymeister,
John LeCarre, whose works include The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; Smiley's
People; and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Le Carre, of course, has ample first hand
experience of the business, as he was an actual British spy, for five years, under his birth
name, David Cornwell. (And, according to internet biographers, he was, in fact,
embedded in Soviet territory when he was blown by Kim Philby, most famous post-war
British secret service traitor; Philby's treachery might have been fatal to him.) "Our
Game" exhibits some of his virtues as a writer: unsurpassed spycraft, strong set piece
openings, and closings; plots that have been known to keep a reader up way past bedtime;
sharply drawn characters given snappy dialogue, and engrossing narrative and descriptive
writing.

The book opens on Tim Cranmer, forcibly retired British cold war spy; luckily for him,
he seems to have had more than his share of wealthy relatives, enabling a comfortable
retirement as a landed winemaker. He has acquired a beautiful, much younger mistress -
Le Carre's characters so often do, in his later writings-- whom he keeps in luxury. And
he's been able to place his oldest friend, Larry Pettifer, a friendly rival since the elite
school Winchester, and the elite university, Oxford, in a job nearby. Mind you, Pettifer
was also one of the deskbound Cranmer's spies, or joes, as Le Carre calls them; he was
also a double agent, secretly working for the Russians. Yet Cranmer, whom people
consider cold and distant, has never been closer to anyone else.

Suddenly, Pettifer disappears, taking with him Cranmer's young mistress Emma. (He tells
Cranmer:" You stole my life, I stole your girl.") Cranmer soon discovers that Pettifer has
committed himself to a new cause, for which he's taken with him, from their former
employer, the spy agency, $37 million Russian to which he wasn't entitled. Cranmer also
soon realizes his former employers at the spy shop suspect him of complicity in the theft;
and, what's worse, a ruthless Russian mafia does, too. So Cranmer goes on the run, to
Paris and Russia, remembering his helpful spy-craft all the way, as he looks for Pettifer
and Emma, while trying to avoid the parties looking for him.

At one point Cranmer muses: "He /Pettifer/ has been goading me about my indifference
to the world's agonies....I have said that I never considered myself responsible for the
world's ills, not for causing them, not for curing them. The world was in my view a
jungle overrun with savages, just as it had always been. Most of its problems were
insoluble....I have said that I have always been, and would continue to be, prepared to
make sacrifices for my neighbours, compatriots, and friends. But when it came to saving
barbarians from one another in countries no bigger than a letter on the map, I failed to see
why I should throw myself into a burning house to rescue a dog I had never cared for in
the first place."

Now, unfortunately, readers who find that speech resonant, who perhaps are even now
saying some variation of: "Right on, brother, couldn't say it better myself," will suddenly
have a problem. Because, for reasons never made entirely clear, Cranmer will soon start
behaving in ways totally discordant with his stated beliefs. For such readers, I must say,
this book might not be the best place to start reading Le Carre. Few of his post cold war
novels measure up to his great cold war repertory (he tends to let his political beliefs run
away with his stories); and this isn't one of them.

				
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posted:5/25/2010
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