The New York Times 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.
Single and Singleby John le Carré
John le Carré's classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international intrigue with unsurpassed skill and knowledge, and have earned him unprecedented worldwide acclaim.
A lawyer from a London finance house is shot dead on a Turkish hillside by people with whom he thought he was in business. A children's magician/b>
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John le Carré's classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international intrigue with unsurpassed skill and knowledge, and have earned him unprecedented worldwide acclaim.
A lawyer from a London finance house is shot dead on a Turkish hillside by people with whom he thought he was in business. A children's magician in the English countryside is asked to explain the arrival of more than five million pounds sterling in his young daughter's modest trust.
In Single & Single, le Carré masterfully establishes a sequence of events whose connections are mysterious, complex and compelling. He tells of corrupt liaisons between criminal elements in the new Russian states and the world of legitimate finance in the West. He also paints 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.
John Le Carré is, by a large margin, the 20th century’s greatest chronicler of the shadowy, morally ambiguous world of espionage. His earlier novels, such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Smiley's People, created indelible portraits of burned-out cold warriors caught between the conflicting demands of their personal and professional loyalties. In later works, such as The Night Manager, Our Game, and his splendid Single & Single, Le Carré has successfully come to grips with the rapidly changing social and political realities of a world formed in the aftermath of Soviet Communism’s spectacular collapse.
Single & Single is the name of an international, British-based financial institution run by an aggressive opportunist named Tiger Single, who has grown immensely rich by turning his company into a money-laundering operation for a firm of corrupt Russian "traders" run by Yevgeny Orlov. Orlov, together with his brother Mikhail and his sadistic, manipulative son-in-law, Alix Hoban, has flooded the free world with illegal shipments of drugs and weapons. Through the expert intervention of Single & Single, the profits from these shipments are then converted into legitimate business enterprises: hotels, resorts, night clubs, and various other accoutrements of the bland but legal "leisure industry."
The plot of Single & Single hinges on the actions of Tiger’s son and junior partner, Oliver Single. Overwhelmed by moral revulsion brought about by his belated discovery of the true nature of his father’s business, Oliver betrays his own family, first turning over his knowledge of the firm’s inner workings -- particularly its relationship with the Orlov family -- to a British Intelligence agent named Nat Brock, then changing his name and going to ground in a small town in rural England, where he scratches out a living as an itinerant children’s magician.
The novel opens four years after Oliver’s betrayal, at which point British Intelligence has finally begun to employ its secret knowledge against the Orlov empire. Bank accounts belonging to the Orlovs are frozen. Various Orlov assets are seized. In the aftermath of a particularly expensive setback -- a ship carrying a cargo of heroin is boarded and confiscated by Russian forces -- the Orlov’s strike back, executing a lawyer employed by Single & Single, then forcing Tiger Single to run for his life. The bulk of the novel concerns Oliver’s attempts to rescue the father he both loves and hates from the consequences of his betrayal. Oliver’s hunt for Tiger leads from the stately homes of England to the exotic city of Istanbul, and from there to a final confrontation in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, deep in the Caucasus mountains.
In addition to the usual virtues -- the elegant prose, the flawless sense of place, the Dickensian flair for creating vivid and varied characters -- Single & Single draws much of its power from Le Carré’s own moral outrage at the exploitation of what he calls "the black economy" -- the multi-billion dollar traffic in illegal substances -- by the forces sworn to oppose such activities.
As one of Le Carré’s minor characters remarks, "Crime no longer exists in isolation of the state." The financial stakes are now too big "for crime to be left to the criminals." The real villain of Single & Single is what spymaster Nat Brock calls "the Hydra," a many headed network of police and government officials -- symbolized here by a corrupt British policeman named Bernard Porlock -- whose active and tacit collusion permits such traffic to continue, and to thrive.
Single & Single is Le Carré’s 17th novel, and nothing -- not even the passing of his archetypal subject, the Cold War -- has dulled his anger or diminished the power of his fictional vision. He remains one of the finest novelists of the late 20th century, a moralist and storyteller whose best work effortlessly closes the gap between art and entertainment, between literature and the (usually) less rigorous demands of genre fiction. (Bill Sheehan)
As it turns out, Single & Single is neither especially jolly nor particularly meaningful. Perhaps that's because, except for the occasional shimmering passage, there is nothing terribly surprising about the key components of the plot: corrupt British financiers and nasty gangsters from the former Soviet Union who will trade in blood or drugs or anything else available in the new world order's glorious free-market economy. Le Carre relates the means by which these two forces come together with a peculiar flatness and at tedious length. We learn little about either Single, except that the father is short and greedy and the son is tall, attractive to women and, eventually, troubled by his conscience.
The ex-Soviets, meanwhile, spend a lot of time eating great hunks of meat cooked over an open fire while tiresomely proclaiming eternal devotion to their ethnicity "Now you are true Mingrelian!" one of them bellows to Oliver after he has drained a hornful of homemade wine from some part of Georgia. The chief villain, Alix Hoban, wears a "ghostly sneer of the hairline lips" as he whispers into his cell phone, which he does incessantly, even when he's killing people. If he were a dwarf or a hunchback, the picture would be complete.
A sense of familiarity pervades the book. Oliver's friendship with the son of his landlady echoes the much more touchingly drawn one of the battered agent Jim Prideaux and the schoolboy Roach ("Jumbo") in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The archness le Carre used to such great effect in the mouth of the oafish Percy Alleline (in Tinker, Tailor) is overused here anachronistically, as if he were imitating Evelyn Waugh. It looks, in fact, as though le Carre's chief goal here was to sell Single & Single to the movies: There are certainly enough set pieces to make any decent director's job pretty straightforward.
But even Conrad and Greene (to whom le Carre has been compared) had their off days. For all its shortcomings, the book has moments that show what le Carre is still capable of when it comes to exploring the human factor. Near the end, he writes of Oliver's desire "to magic his father out of here and say sorry to him if he felt it, though he wasn't sure he did ... to set him on his feet, but say, 'There you are, you're on your own, we're quits.'" Le Carre may have fallen and bruised himself on this outing. That's no reason, however, to call it quits.
The New York Times Book Review
A.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons College, Boston
The New York Times
Deprived of the great subject of Cold War espionage he handled better than any other novelist, le Carré now argues that individual greed, not ideology, is the villain to watch out for, and individual enterprise the only possible hope.
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This gun is not a gun.
Or such was Mr. Winser's determined conviction when the youthful Alix Hoban, European managing director and chief executive of Trans-Finanz Vienna, St. Petersburg and Istanbul, introduced a pallid hand into the breast of his Italian blazer and extracted neither a platinum cigarette case nor an engraved business card, but a slim blue-black automatic pistol in mint condition, and pointed it from a distance of six inches at the bridge of Mr. Winser's beakish but strictly non-violent nose. This gun does not exist. It is inadmissible evidence. It is no evidence at all. It is a nongun.
Mr. Alfred Winser was a lawyer, and to a lawyer facts were there to be challenged. All facts. The more self-evident a fact might appear to the layman, the more vigorously must the conscientious lawyer contest it. And Winser at that moment was as conscientious as the best of them. Nevertheless, he dropped his briefcase in his astonishment. He heard it fall, he felt the pressure of it linger on his palm, saw with the bottom of his eyes the shadow of it lying at his feet: my briefcase, my pen, my passport, my air tickets and travelers' checks. My credit cards, my legality. He did not stoop to pick it up, though it had cost a fortune. He remained staring mutely at the non-gun.
This gun is not a gun. This apple is not an apple. Winser was recalling the wise words of his law tutor of forty years ago as the great man spirited a green apple from the depths of his frayed sports coat and brandished it aloft for the inspection of his mostly female audience: "It may look like an apple, ladies, it may smell like an apple, feel like an apple" innuendo "but does it rattle like an apple?" shakes it "cut like an apple?" hauls an antique bread knife from a drawer of his desk, strikes. Apple translates into a shower of plaster. Carols of laughter as the great man kicks aside the shards with the toe of his sandal.
Winser's reckless flight down memory lane did not stop there. From his tutor's apple it was but a blinding flash of sunlight to his greengrocer in Hampstead, where he lived and dearly wished himself at this moment: a cheery, unarmed apple purveyor in a jolly apron and straw hat who sold, as well as apples, fine fresh asparagus that Winser's wife, Bunny, liked, even if she didn't like much else her husband brought her. Green, remember, Alfred, and grown above ground, never the white pressing the shopping basket on him. And only if they're in season, Alfred, the forced ones never taste. Why did I do it? Why do I have to marry people in order to discover I don't like them? Why can't I make up my mind ahead of the fact instead of after it? What is legal training for, if not to protect us from ourselves? With his terrified brain scouring every avenue of possible escape, Winser took comfort in these excursions into his internal reality. They fortified him, if only for split seconds, against the unreality of the gun.
This gun still does not exist.
But Winser couldn't take his eyes off it. He had never seen a gun so close, never been obliged to take such intimate note of color, line, markings, burnishment and style, all perfectly pointed up for him in the glaring sunlight. Does it fire like a gun? Does it kill like a gun, extinguish like a gun, removing face and features in a shower of plaster? Bravely, he revolted against this ridiculous possibility. This gun does not, absolutely does not exist! It is a chimera, a trick of white sky, heat and sunstroke. It is a fever gun, brought on by bad food, bad marriages and two exhausting days of smoky consultations, unsettling limousine rides through sweltering, dusty, traffic-choked Istanbul, by a giddying early-morning dash in the Trans-Finanz private jet above the brown massifs of central Turkey, by a suicidal three-hour drive over switchback coast roads and hairpin bends under red-rock precipices to the world's utter end, this arid, boulder-strewn promontory of buckthorn and broken beehives six hundred feet above the eastern Mediterranean, with the morning sun already turned to full, and Hoban's unblinking gun still there and still a phantasm peering like a surgeon into my brain.
He closed his eyes. See? he told Bunny. No gun. But Bunny was bored as usual, urging him to have his pleasure and leave her in peace, so instead he addressed the Bench, a thing he hadn't done for thirty years:
My Lord, it is my pleasant duty to advise the Court that the matter of Winser versus Hoban has been amicably resolved. Winser accepts that he was mistaken in suggesting that Hoban brandished a gun during a site conference in the southern Turkish hills. Hoban in return has provided a full and satisfactory explanation of his actions...
And after that, out of habit or respect, he addressed his chairman, managing director and Svengali for the last twenty years, the eponymous founder and creator of the House of Single, the one and only Tiger Single himself:
It's Winser here, Tiger. Very well indeed, thank you, sit, and how about your good self? Delighted to hear it. Yes, I think I can say that everything is exactly as you wisely predicted, and the response to date has been entirely satisfactory. Only one small thing water under the bridge now not a breakpoint our client's man Hoban gave the impression of drawing a gun on me. Nothing in it, all a fantasy, but one does like to be forewarned...
Even when he opened his eyes and saw the gun exactly where it had been before, and Hoban's childlike eyes contemplating him down its barrel, and his child's hairless forefinger crooked round the trigger, Winser did not abandon the remnants of his legal position. Very well, this gun exists as an object, but not as a gun. It is a joke gun. An amusing, harmless, practical joke. Hoban purchased it for his small son. It is a facsimile of a gun, and Hoban, in order to introduce some light relief into what for a young man has no doubt been a lengthy and tedious negotiation, is flourishing it as a prank. Through numb lips, Winser contrived a species of jaunty smile in keeping with his newest theory.
"Well, that's a persuasive argument, I must say, Mr. Hoban," he declared bravely. "What do you want me to do? Waive our fee?"
But in reply he heard only a hammering of coffin makers, which he hastily converted to the clatter of builders in the little tourist port across the bay as they fixed shutters and roof tiles and pipes in a last-minute rush to make ready for the season after playing backgammon all winter. In his longing for normality, Winser savored the smells of paint stripper, blowtorches, fish cooking on charcoal, the spices of street vendors, and all the other lovely and less lovely scents of Mediterranean Turkey. Hoban barked something in Russian to his colleagues. Winser heard a scramble of feet behind him but dared not turn his head. Hands yanked his jacket from his back, others explored his bodyarmpits, ribs, spine, groin. Memories of more acceptable hands provided no solace as those of his assailants groped their way downward to his calves and ankles, searching for a secret weapon. Winser had never carried a weapon in his life, secret or otherwise, unless it was his cherrywood walking stick to fend off rabid dogs and sex maniacs when he was taking a turn on Hampstead Heath to admire the lady joggers.
Reluctantly he remembered Hoban's too many hangers-on. Seduced by the gun, he had briefly imagined it was just Hoban and himself alone here on the hilltop, face-to-face and nobody in earshot, a situation any lawyer expects to use to his advantage. He now conceded that ever since they had left Istanbul, Hoban had been attended by a gaggle of unappetizing advisers. A Signor d'Emilio and a Monsieur François had joined them on their departure from Istanbul airport, coats over their shoulders, no arms showing. Winser had cared for neither man. Two more undesirables had been waiting for them at Dalaman, equipped with their own hearse-black Land Rover and driver. From Germany, Hoban had explained, introducing the pair, though not by name. From Germany they might be, but in Winser's hearing they spoke only Turkish and they wore the undertaker suits of country Turks on business.
More hands grabbed Winser by the hair and shoulders and flung him to his knees on the sandy track. He heard goat bells tinkling and decided they were the bells of St. John at Hampstead, tolling out his burial. Other hands took his loose change, spectacles and handkerchief. Others again picked up his treasured briefcase and he watched it as in a bad dream: his identity, his security, floating from one pair of hands to another, six hundred pounds' worth of matchless black hide, rashly bought at Zurich airport with cash drawn from a funk-money bank account Tiger had encouraged him to open. Well, next time you're in a generous mood, you can bloody well buy me a decent handbag, Bunny is complaining in the rising nasal whine that promises there is more to come. I'll flit, he thought. Bunny gets Hampstead, I buy a flat in Zurich, one of those new terraces on a hillside. Tiger will understand.
Winser's screen was suffused with a vibrant yellow wash and he let out a shriek of agony. Horned hands had seized his wrists, dragged them behind him and twisted them in opposing directions. His shriek hurtled from one hilltop to the next on its way to extinction. Kindly at first, as a dentist might, more hands raised his head, then yanked it round by the hair to meet the sun's full blast.
"Hold it right there," a voice ordered in English, and Winser found himself squinting up at the concerned features of Signor d'Emilio, a white-haired man of Winser's age. Signor d'Emilio is our consultant from Naples, Hoban had said in the vile American-Russian twang that he had picked up God knew where. How very nice, Winser had replied, using Tiger's drawl when Tiger didn't want to be impressed, and granted him a tepid smile. Hobbled in the sand, his arms and shoulders screaming bloody murder, Winser wished very much that he had shown respect to Signor d'Emilio while he had the opportunity.
D'Emilio was wandering up the hillside and Winser would have liked to wander with him, arm in arm, chaps together, while he put right any false impression he might have given. But he was obliged to remain kneeling, his face twisted to the scalding sun. He pressed his eyes shut but the sun's rays still bathed them in a yellow flood. He was kneeling but straining sideways and upright, and the pain that was entering his knees was the same pain that tore through his shoulders in alternating currents. He worried about his hair. He had never wished to dye it, he had only contempt for those who did. But when his barber persuaded him to try a rinse and see, Bunny had ordered him to persist. How do you think I feel, Alfred? Going around with an old man with milky hair for a husband?
But my dear, my hair was that color when I married you! Worse luck me, then, she had replied.
I should have taken Tiger's advice, set her up in a flat somewhere, Dolphin Square, the Barbican. I should have fired her as my secretary and kept her as my little friend without suffering the humiliation of being her husband. Don't marry her, Winser, buy her! Cheaper in the long run, always is, Tiger had assured him then given them both a week in Barbados for their honeymoon. He opened his eyes. He was wondering where his hat was, a snappy Panama he had bought in Istanbul for sixty dollars. He saw that his friend d'Emilio was wearing it, to the entertainment of the two dark-suited Turks. First they laughed together. Then they turned together and peered at Winser from their chosen place halfway up the hillside, as if he were a play. Sourly. Interrogatively. Spectators, not participants. Bunny, watching me make love to her. Having a nice time down there, are you? Well, get on with it, I'm tired. He glanced at the driver of the jeep that had driven him the last leg, from the foot of the mountain. The man's got a kind face, he'll save me. And a married daughter in Izmir.
Kind face or not, the driver had gone to sleep. In the Turks' hearse-black Land Rover, farther down the track, a second driver sat with his mouth open, gawping straight ahead of him, seeing nothing.
"Hoban," Winser said.
A shadow fell across his eyes, and the sun by now was so high that whoever was casting it must be standing close to him. He felt sleepy. Good idea. Wake up somewhere else. Squinting downward through sweat-matted eyelashes he saw a pair of crocodile shoes protruding from elegant white ducks with turnups. He squinted higher and identified the black, inquiring features of Monsieur François, yet another of Hoban's satraps. Monsieur François is our surveyor. He will be taking measurements of the proposed site, Hoban had announced at Istanbul airport, and Winser had foolishly granted the surveyor the same tepid smile that he had bestowed on Signor d'Emilio.
One of the crocodile shoes shifted and in his drowsy state Winser wondered whether Monsieur François proposed to kick him with it, but evidently not. He was offering something obliquely to Winser's face. A pocket tape recorder, Winser decided. The sweat in his eyes was making them smart. He wants me to speak words of reassurance to my loved ones for when they ransom me: Tiger, sir, this is Alfred Winser, the last of the Winsers, as you used to call me, and I want you to know I'm absolutely fine, nothing to worry about at all, everything ace. These are good people and they are looking after me superbly. I've learned to respect their cause, whatever it is, and when they release me, which they've promised to do any minute now, I shall speak out boldly for it in the forums of world opinion. Oh, and I hope you don't mind, I've promised them that you will too, only they're most concerned to have the benefit of your powers of persuasion...
He's holding it against my other cheek. He's frowning at it. It's not a tape recorder after all, it's a thermometer. No it's not, it's for reading my pulse, making sure I'm not passing out. He's putting it back in his pocket. He's swinging up the hill to join the two German Turk undertakers and Signor d'Emilio in my Panama hat.
Winser discovered that, in the strain of ruling out the unacceptable, he had wet himself. A clammy patch had formed in the left inside leg of the trousers of his tropical suit and there was nothing he could do to conceal it. He was in limbo, in terror. He was transposing himself to other places. He was sitting late at his desk at the office because he couldn't stand another night of waiting up for Bunny to come home from her mother's in a bad temper with her cheeks flushed. He was with a chubby friend he used to love in Chiswick, and she was tying him to the bed head with bits of dressing-gown girdle she kept in a top drawer. He was anywhere, absolutely anywhere, except here on this hilltop in hell. He was asleep but he went on kneeling, skewed upright and racked with pain. There must have been splinters of seashell or flint in the sand because he could feel points cutting into his kneecaps. Ancient pottery, he remembered. Roman pottery abounds on the hilltops, and the hills are said to contain gold. Only yesterday he had made this tantalizing selling point to Hoban's retinue during his eloquent presentation of the Single investment blueprint in Dr. Mirsky's office in Istanbul. Such touches of color were attractive to ignorant investors, particularly boorish Russians. Gold, Hoban! Treasure, Hoban! Ancient civilization! Think of the appeal! He had talked brilliantly, provocatively, a virtuoso performance. Even Mirsky, whom Winser secretly regarded as an upstart and a liability, had found it in him to applaud. "Your scheme is so legal, Alfred, it ought to be forbidden," he had roared and, with a huge Polish laugh, slapped him so hard on the back that his knees nearly buckled.
"Please. Before I shoot you, Mr. Winser, I am instructed to ask you couple of questions."
Winser made nothing of this. He didn't hear it. He was dead.
"You are friendly with Mr. Randy Massingham?" Hoban asked. "I know him."
Which do they want? Winser was screaming to himself. Very friendly? Scarcely at all? Middling friendly? Hoban was repeating his question, yelling it insistently.
"Describe, please, the exact degree of your friendship with Mr. Randy Massingham. Very clearly, please. Very loudly."
"I know him. I am his colleague. I do legal work for him. We are on formal, perfectly pleasant terms, but we are not intimate," Winser mumbled, keeping his options open.
Winser said some of it again, louder.
"You are wearing a fashionable cricket tie, Mr. Winser. Describe to us what is represented by this tie, please."
"This isn't a cricket tie!" Unexpectedly Winser had found his spirit. "Tiger's the cricketer, not me! You've got the wrong man, you idiot!"
"Testing," Hoban said to someone up the hill.
"Testing what?" Winser demanded gamely.
Hoban was reading from a Gucci prayer book of maroon leather that he held open before his face, at an angle not to obstruct the barrel of the automatic.
"Question," he declaimed, festive as a town crier. "Who was responsible, please, for arrest at sea last week of SS Free Tallinn out of Odessa, bound for Liverpool?"
"What do I know of shipping matters?" Winser demanded truculently, his courage still up. "We're financial consultants, not shippers. Someone has money, they need advice, they come to Single's. How they make the money is their affair. As long as they're adult about it."
Adult to sting. Adult because Hoban was a pink piglet, hardly born. Adult because Mirsky was a bumptious Polish show-off, however many Doctors he put before his name. Doctor of where, anyway? Of what? Hoban again glanced up the hill, licked a finger and turned to the next page of his prayer book.
"Question. Who provided informations to the Italian police authorities concerning a special convoy of trucks returning from Bosnia to Italy on March thirtieth this year, please?"
"Trucks? What do I know of special trucks? As much as you know of cricket, that's how much! Ask me to recite the names and dates of the kings of Sweden, you'd have more chance."
Why Sweden? he wondered. What had Sweden to do with anything? Why was he thinking of Swedish blondes, deep white thighs, Swedish crispbread, pornographic films? Why was he living in Sweden when he was dying in Turkey? Never mind. His courage was still up there. Screw the little runt, gun or no gun. Hoban turned another page of his prayer book but Winser was ahead of him. Like Hoban, he was bellowing at the top of his voice: "I don't know, you stupid idiot! Don't ask me, do you hear?" until an immense blow to the left side of his neck from Hoban's foot sent him crashing to the ground. He had no sense of traveling, only of arriving. The sun went out; he saw the night and felt his head nestled against a friendly rock and knew that a piece of time had gone missing from his consciousness and it was not a piece he wanted back.
Hoban, meanwhile, had resumed his reading: "Who implemented seizure in six countries simultaneously of all assets and shipping held directly or indirectly by First Flag Construction Company of Andorra and subsidiaries? Who provided information to international police authorities, please?"
"What seizure? Where? When? Nothing has been seized! No one provided anything. You're mad, Hoban! Barking mad. Do you hear me? Mad!"
Winser was still recumbent but in his frenzy he was trying to writhe his way back onto his knees, kicking and twisting like a felled animal, struggling to wedge his heels under him, half rising, only to topple back again onto his side. Hoban was asking other questions but Winser refused to hear them questions about commissions paid in vain, about supposedly friendly port officials who had proved unfriendly, about sums of money transferred to bank accounts days before the said accounts were seized. But Winser knew nothing of such matters.
"It's lies!" he shouted. "Single's is a dependable and honest house. Our customers' interests are paramount."
"Listen up, and kneel up," Hoban ordered.
And somehow Winser with his newfound dignity knelt up and listened up. Intently. And more intently still. As intently as if Tiger himself had been commanding his attention. Never in his life had he listened so vigorously, so diligently to the sweet background music of the universe as he did now, in his effort to blank out the one sound he absolutely declined to hear, which was Hoban's grating American-Russian drone. He noted with delight a shrieking of gulls vying with the distant wall of a muezzin, a rustle of the sea as a breeze blew over it, a tink-tink of pleasure boats in the bay as they geared themselves for the season. He saw a girl from his early manhood, kneeling naked in a field of poppies, and was too scared, now as then, to reach a hand toward her. He adored with the terrified love that was welling in him all the tastes, touches and sounds of earth and heaven, as long as they weren't Hoban's awful voice booming out his death sentence.
"We are calling this 'exemplary punishment,'" Hoban was declaring, in a prepared statement from his prayer book.
"Louder," Monsieur François ordered laconically from up the hill, so Hoban said the sentence again.
"Sure, it's a vengeance killing too. Please. We would not be human if we did not exact vengeance. But also we intend this gesture will be interpreted as formal request for recompense." Louder still. And clearer. "And we sincerely hope, Mr. Winser, that your friend Mr. Tiger Single, and the international police, will read this message and draw the appropriate conclusion."
Then he bawled out what Winser took to be the same message in Russian, for the benefit of those members of his audience whose English might not be up to the mark. Or was it Polish, for the greater edification of Dr. Mirsky?
Winser, who had momentarily lost his power of speech, was now gradually recovering it, even if at first he was capable only of such half-made scraps as "out of your wits" and "judge and jury in one" and "Single not a house to mess with." He was filthy, he was a mess of sweat and piss and mud. In his fight for the survival of his species he was wrestling with irrelevant erotic visions that belonged to some unlivable underlife, and his fall to the ground had left him coated in red dust. His locked arms were a martyrdom and he had to crane his head back to speak at all. But he managed. He held the line.
His case was that, as previously stated, he was de facto and de jute immune. He was a lawyer, and the law was its own protection. He was a healer, not a destroyer, a passive facilitator of unlimited goodwill, the legal director and a board member of the House of Single, with offices in London's West End; he was a husband and father who, despite a weakness for women and two unfortunate divorces, had kept the love of his children. He had a daughter who was even now embarking on a promising career on the stage. At the mention of his daughter he choked, though no one joined him in his grief.
"Keep your voice up!" Monsieur François, the surveyor, advised from above him.
Winser's tears were making tracks in the dust on his cheeks, giving the impression of disintegrating makeup, but he kept going, he still held the line. He was a specialist in preemptive tax planning and investment, he said, rolling his head right back and screaming at the white sky. His specialties embraced offshore companies, trusts, havens and the tax shelters of all accommodating nations. He was not a marine lawyer as Dr. Mirsky claimed to be, not a dicey entrepreneur like Mirsky, not a gangster. He dealt in the art of the legitimate, in transferring informal assets to firmer ground. And to this he added a wild postscript regarding legal second passports, alternative citizenship and nonobligatory residency in more than a dozen climatically and fiscally attractive countries. But he was not repeat, not, he insisted boldly and never had been involved in what he would call the methodologies of accumulating primary wealth. He remembered that Hoban had some kind of military past or was it naval?
"We're boffins, Hoban, don't you see? Backroom boys! Planners! Strategists! You're the men of action, not us! You and Mirsky, if you want, since you seem to be so hugger-mugger with him!"
No one applauded. No one said Amen. But no one stopped him either, and their silence convinced him that they were listening. The gulls had ceased their clamor. Across the bay it could have been siesta time. Hoban was looking at his watch again. It was becoming a fidget with him: to keep both hands on the gun while he rolled his left wrist inward till the watch showed. He rolled it out again. A gold Rolex. What they all aspire to. Mirsky wears one too. Bold talking had given Winser his strength back. He took a breath and pulled what he imagined was a smile communicating reason. In a frenzy of companionability he began babbling tidbits from his presentation of the previous day in Istanbul.
"It's your land, Hoban! You own it. Six million dollars cash, you paid dollar bills, pounds, deutsche marks, yen, francs baskets, suitcases, trunks full, not a question asked! Remember? Who arranged that? We did! Sympathetic officials, tolerant politicians, people with influence remember? Single's fronted it all for you, washed your grubby money Ivory white! Overnight, remember? You heard what Mirsky said so legal it ought to be forbidden. Well, it's not. It's legal!"
No one said they remembered.
Winser became breathless, and a little crazy. "Reputable private bank, Hoban us remember? Registered in Monaco, offers to buy your land lock, stock and barrel. Do you accept? No! You'll take paper only, never cash! And our bank agrees to that. It agrees to everything, of course it does. Because we're you, remember? We're yourselves in another hat. We're a bank but we're using your money to buy your land! You can't shoot yourselves! We're you we're one."
Too shrill. He checked himself. Objective is the thing. Laid-.back. Detached. Never oversell yourself. That's Mirsky's problem. Ten minutes of Mirsky's patter and any self-respecting trader is halfway out the door.
"Look at the numbers, Hoban! The beauty of it! Your own thriving holiday village accounted any way you like! Look at the cleansing power once you start to invest! Twelve million for roads, drainage, power, lido, communal pool; ten for your rental cottages, hotels, casinos, restaurants and additional infrastructure the merest child could get it up to thirty!"
He was going to add, "Even you, Hoban," but suppressed himself in time. Were they hearing him? Perhaps he should speak louder. He roared. D'Emilio smiled. Of course! Loud is what d'Emilio likes! Well, I like it too! Loud is free. Loud is openness, legality, transparency! Loud is boys together, partners, being one! Loud is sharing hats!
"You don't even need tenants, Hoban not for your cottages not for your first year! Not real ones ghost tenants for twelve straight months, imagine! Notional residents paying two million a week into shops, hotels, discos, restaurants and rented properties! The money straight out of your suitcases, through the company's books, into legitimate European bank accounts! Generating an immaculate trading record for any future purchaser of the shares! And who's the purchaser? You are! Who's the seller? You are! You sell to yourself, you buy from yourself, up and up! And Single's is there as honest broker, to see fair play, keep everything on course and aboveboard! We're your friends, Hoban! We're not fly-by-night Mirskys. We're brothers in arms. Buddies! There when you need us. Even when the rub of the cloth goes against you, we're still there" quoting Tiger desperately.
A burst of rain fell out of the clear heaven, laying the red dust, raising scents and drawing more lines on Winser's clotted face. He saw d'Emillo step forward in their shared Panama and decided he had won his case and was about to be lifted to his feet, slapped on the back and awarded the congratulations of the court.
But d'Emillo had other plans. He was draping a white raincoat over Hoban's shoulders. Winser tried to faint but couldn't. He was screaming, Why? Friends! Don't! He was blabbering that he had never heard of the Free Tallinn, never met anyone from the international police authorities; his whole life had been spent avoiding them. D'Emilio was fitting something round Hoban's head. Mother of God, a black cap. No, a ring of black cloth. No, a stocking, a black stocking. Oh God, oh Christ, oh Mother of Heaven and Earth, a black stocking to distort the features of my executioner!
"Hoban. Tiger. Hoban. Listen to me. Stop looking at your watch! Bunny. Stop! Mirsky. Wait! What have I done to you? Nothing but good, I swear it! Tiger! All my life! Wait! Stop!"
By the time he had blurted these words his English had begun to labor as if he were interpreting from other languages in his head. Yet he possessed no other languages, no Russian, no Polish, no Turkish, no French. He stared round him and saw Monsieur François the surveyor standing up the hill, wearing earphones and peering through the sights of a movie camera with a spongecovered microphone fitted to its barrel. He saw the black-masked and white-shrouded figure of Hoban posed obligingly in the shooting position, one leg histrionically set back, one hand folded round the gun that was trained on Winser's left temple and the other clutching a cell phone to his ear while he kept his eyes on Winser and softly whispered sweet nothings in Russian into the extended mouthpiece. He saw Hoban take one last look at his watch while Monsieur François made ready, in the best tradition of photography, to immortalize that very special moment. And he saw a smear-faced boy peering down at him from a cleft between two promontories. He had big brown unbelieving eyes, like Winser's when he was the same age, and he was lying on his stomach and using both hands as a pillow for his chin.
Copyright © 1999 by David Cornwell
What People are Saying About This
Interviewed in The New York Times, April 6, 1999
Meet the Author
John le Carré was born in 1931. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, secured him a worldwide reputation, which was consolidated by the acclaim for his trilogy Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy; and Smiley’s People. His recent novels include The Constant Gardener, Absolute Friends, The Mission Song, A Most Wanted Man, and Our Kind of Traitor. A Delicate Truth is his twenty-third novel.
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ONE OF MY FAVOURITE AUTHORS IN THE SPY GENDRE IS WITH-OUT SAYING JOHN LECARRE. HIS NOVELS HAVE KEPT ME COMING BACK FOR MORE AS HE WEAVES VERY INTRICATE STORY LINES AND FORCES YOU TO THINK ALONG WITH HIS CHARACTERS. IN SINGLE ETC. THAT'S ALL IT IS, IS 'ETC.' . I HATE TO SAY IT BUT SINGLE AND SINGLE SEEMS LIKE IT WAS WRITTEN OUT OF BOREDOM AND WITH-OUT ANY INTEREST IN CREATING A NEW MYSTIQUE. SORRY JOHN BUT MAYBE IF THERE'S ANOTHER BOOK YOU'LL COME BACK TO THE OLD KEEP ME THINKING WAY OF WRITING. BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME
I am a medical student, not a literati. I give books the three page test: if I like it after three pages, I will go further. I am looking for entertainment, a release, a time in fantasy. In short, I am looking for a good story. This book has one absorbing vignette after another, but then the last 90 pages or so kind of wore on me. And the ending seemed awful: contrived, weak characters and diaglogue, and improbable events. In short, it was no longer an absorbing fantasy. If I had to do it over again (which I won't) I would read the first 75% of the book and then toss it, and look for the next good read.
Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!