With the Cold War fought and won, British spymaster Tim Cranmer accepts early retirement to rural England and a new life with his alluring young mistress, Emma. But when both Emma and Cranmer’s star double agent and lifelong rival, Larry Pettifer, disappear, Cranmer is suddenly on the run, searching for his brilliant protégé, desperately eluding his former colleagues, in a frantic journey across Europe and into the lawless, battered landscapes of Moscow and southern Russia, to save whatever of his life he has left. . . .
Praise for Our Game
“As thrilling as le Carré gets . . . The novel has the heartstop duplicity of A Perfect Spy and some of the outraged honor of The Night Manager and The Little Drummer Girl.”—The Boston Globe
“Furious in action . . . takes us by the neck on page one and never lets go.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“Irresistible . . . a sinuous plot, leisurely introduced, whose coils become increasingly constricting. There is crisp, intelligent dialogue, much of it riding an undercurrent of menace. And there is a hero who does not see himself as heroic but who struggles with inner demons as much as with the forces arrayed against him.”—Time
“Gripping.”—The Christian Science Monitor
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Larry went officially missing from the world on the second Monday of October, at ten minutes past eleven, when he failed to deliver his opening lecture of the new academic year.
I am able to set the scene exactly because it was not so very long ago, in the same dreary Bath weather, that I had dragged Larry down to see the wretched place for the first time. To this day I have the most accusing memory of the brutalist slab barracks closing in on him like the walls of his new confinement. And of Larry’s ever youthful back walking reproachfully away from me down the concrete canyon like a man going to his nemesis. If I had had a son, I thought as I stared after him, this was how it would feel to be dumping him at his first boarding school.
“Hey, Timbo,” he whispers over his shoulder, the way Larry can speak to you from miles away.
“This is it, is it?”
“This is what?”
“The future. Where it all ends. Leftover life.”
“It’s a new beginning,” I say loyally.
But loyal to whom? To him? To me? To the Office?
“We have to scale down,” I say. “Both of us do.”
The day of his disappearance was by all accounts equally depressing. A cloying mist envelops the hideous grey university campus and breathes a sticky pall over the alloy-framed windows of Larry’s grimy lecture room. Twenty students sit at desks facing the empty lectern, which is of a particularly violent yellow pitch pine, very scratched. The subject of his lecture has been chalked on the blackboard by a mysterious hand, probably a doting pupil’s. Karl Marx in the Supermarket: Revolution and Modern Materialism. There is a bit of laughter. Students are the same everywhere. On the first day of term they will laugh at anything. But gradually they fall quiet and content themselves with smirking at each other, peering at the door, and listening for Larry’s footsteps. Until, having allowed him the full ten minutes’ grace, they self-consciously put away their pens and notebooks and clank along the rocking concrete pavement to the canteen.
Over coffee, the freshers are duly appalled by this first experience of Larry’s unpredictability. This never happened to us at school! How will we catch up? Will we be given notes? Oh, God! But the hardened ones, Larry’s fans, only laugh. That’s Larry for you, they explain happily; next time round he’ll bat on for three hours and you’ll be so hooked you’ll forget lunch. They speculate about what might have kept him: a bumper hangover, or an outrageous love affair, of which they ascribe any number to him, for in his mid-forties Larry is still a lover just to look at: he has the lost-boy appeal of a poet who never grew up.
The university authorities took an equally relaxed view of Larry’s reluctance to appear. Common Room colleagues, not all from the friendliest of motives, had reported the offence within the hour. Nonetheless the administrators waited for another Monday, and another no-show, before mustering the energy to telephone his landlady and, on receiving no satisfaction from her, the Bath police. It was a further six days before the police called on me: a Sunday, if you can believe it, ten o’clock at night. I had spent a wearisome afternoon escorting a coachload of our village elderlies on a trip to Longleat, and a frustrating evening in the winery wrestling with a German grape press, which my late uncle Bob had christened The Sulky Hun. Nevertheless, when I heard their ring my heart leapt while I pretended to myself that it was Larry, hovering on my doorstep with his accusing brown eyes and dependent smile: “Come on, Timbo, fix us a bloody big Scotch, and who gives a damn about women anyway?”
It was pelting rain, so they had huddled themselves into the porch while they waited for me to open up. Plain clothes of the deliberately recognisable kind. Parked their car in my drive, a Peugeot 306 diesel, very shiny under the downpour, marked POLICE and fitted out with the usual array of mirrors and aerials. As I peered through the fish-eye, their hatless faces stared back at me like bloated corpses: the elder man coarse and moustached, the younger goatish, with a long, sloped head like a coffin and small, round eyes like bullet holes shot through it.
Wait, I told myself. Add a beat. That’s what being calm is all about. This is your own house, late at night. Only then did I consent to unchain the door to them. Seventeenth-century, iron-bound, and weighs a ton. The night sky restless. A capricious wind snapping at the trees. The crows still shifting and complaining, despite the darkness. During the day we had had a crazy fall of snow. Ghostly grey lines of it lay on the drive.
“Hullo,” I said. “Don’t stand there freezing. Come on in.”
“My entrance lobby is a late addition by my grandfather, a glass-and-mahogany box like a vast elevator that serves as an antechamber to the Great Hall. For a moment, there we stood, all three, under the brass lantern, going neither up nor down while we looked each other over.
“This is Honeybrook Manor, is it, sir?” said the moustache, a smiler. “Only we didn’t seem to see a sign at all.”
“We call it the Vineyard these days,” I said. “What can I do for you?” But if my words were polite, my tone was not. I was speaking the way I speak to trespassers: Excuse me. Can I help you?
“Then you would be Mr. Cranmer, am I correct, sir?” the moustache suggested, still with his smile. Why I say smile, I don’t know, for his expression, though technically benign, was devoid of humour or of semblance of goodwill.
“Yes, I’m Cranmer,” I replied, but preserving the note of question in my voice.
“Mr. Timothy Cranmer? Just routine, sir, if you don’t mind. Not disturbing you, I trust?” His moustache hid a vertical white scar, I guessed a harelip operation. Or perhaps someone had smashed a broken bottle into him, for he had a patchy, reconstructed complexion.
“Routine?” I echoed, in open disbelief. “At this time of night? Don’t tell me my car licence is out of date.”
“No, sir, it’s not about your car licence. We’re enquiring about a Dr. Lawrence Pettifer, of Bath University.”
I allowed myself a chastened pause, then a frown midway between amusement and vexation. “You mean Larry? Oh my Lord. What’s he been up to now?” And when I received no answer but the stare: “Nothing bad, is it, I trust?”
“We’re given to understand you’re an acquaintance of the Doctor’s, not to say close friend. Or isn’t that correct?”
It’s a little too correct, I thought.
“Close?” I repeated, as if the notion of proximity were new to me. “I don’t think I’d go that far.”
As one man, they handed me their coats and watched me while I hung them up, then watched me again while I opened the inner door for them. Most first-time visitors to Honeybrook make a reverent pause at this point while they take in the minstrels’ gallery, the great fireplace, the portraits, and the wagon roof with its armorial bearings. Not the moustache. And not the coffinhead, who, having until now lugubriously observed our exchanges from behind his older colleague’s shoulder, elected to address me in a deprived and snappish monotone:
“We heard you and Pettifer were bosom pals,” he objected. “Winchester College was what we heard, no less. You were schoolmates.”
“There were three years between us. For schoolboys that’s a lifetime.”
“Nonetheless, in public school circles, as we hear, such things make a bond. Plus you were students together at Oxford,” he added accusingly.
“What’s happened to Larry?” I said.
My question drew an insolent silence from both of them. They seemed to be deliberating whether I rated an answer. It fell to the elder man, as their official spokesman, to reply. His technique, I decided, was to play himself in caricature. And in slow motion too.
“Yes, well, your doctor friend has gone a bit missing, to tell you the truth, Mr. Cranmer, sir,” he confessed, in the tones of a reluctant Inspector Plod. “No foul play suspected, not at this stage. However, he’s missing from his lodgings and his place of work. And so far as we can gauge”—how he loved that word; his frown said so—“he’s not written anybody a goodbye billy-doo. Unless he wrote you one, of course. He’s not here, is he, by any chance, sir? Upstairs, sleeping it off, so to speak?”
“Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous.”
His scarred moustache abruptly widened, revealing anger and bad teeth. “Oh? Now, why am I being ridiculous, Mr. Cranmer, sir?”
“I would have told you at once. I’d have said, He’s upstairs. Why should I waste your time, or mine, pretending he isn’t here if he is?”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is by far one of rhe worst novels I have ever read. The characters, as nunerous as they were, required a reader to have a cheat shee to keep up. The end was absolutely a let down. Nothing gets resolved. This was my first Le Carre book and it will be the last. I love thrillers and mysteries but ones that are comprehensible and not a mess such as this novel. One reviewer was kind to give it one star. Avoid this book and watch the miniseries
Am i becoming insensed? Lately the books i've read just done do it for me. this was lecarre, i should be disappointed it's over, not disappointed that i read it. I mean the book was ok, the last bit was good but not great. (when he was in russia). but overall it was drole. i hate to even say that but it's true. if you're a lecarre fan you'll be ok with it but it still won't be anything special.
Almost quit reading this one before I reached the end, but glad in continued. First thirteen chapters (2 stars out of 5) are the backstory of two ¿retired¿ cold war warriors. The plot weaves the present (c. 1995) with the prior 20 years of spying between the UK and the USSR. This section moved a bit too slow for my tastes.Whereas the last two chapters (4 stars out of 5) were set in the Caucasian Mountains of Russia and dealt with the ethnic conflicts there and is set just to the West of Chechenia. The plot state that the Georgians participated with the Russians in ethic cleansing of the Ossetians, which prepared the Ossetians for participating in the ethic cleansing of the Ingushetians . This section focuses on the leadership and customs of the latter group and was actually quite interesting. Recommended only for students of mountain peoples or diehards of the Le Carre canon. (Average: 2½ stars out of 5).
First, out of most of the spy novel writers le Carre does the best research, and not just his facts, more importantly he has a good understanding of the problems he describes as the background of his plot. Second, his novels aren't entertainment in the usual sense of the word - clearly cut good guys beating clearly cut bad guys for a happy end - he asks some tough questions that might rub some people the wrong way, and that is admirable. In this book, he challanges his readers to take a stance on an issue that most of us haven't heard about, but also he tries to draw a parallel to other similar situations, where our interests, although indirectly, might be involved. Third, I loved the Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' pattern towards the end of this book - just like Marlowe, Cranmer travels to some remote corner of the world looking for a man he doesn't really know, when all along he is looking for himself. The reason I gave this book four starts is because the narrative was a bit slow at times and hard to keep up with, but that maybe my shortcoming as a reader. I definitely recommend this one to anybody who enjoys thought-provoking books.
John Le Carre is simply a superb writer, unique in his ability to make the richness and revelation of character a page turner before anything has actually happened.
As with everything that Le Carre has written, Our Game is enjoyable, topical, and beautifully written. Its greatest flaw is that, by virtue of the fact that he wrote it, it must inevitably be compared to works like The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and The Constant Gardener. It is simply not that good. Like most of Le Carre's post Cold War novels, it reveals his frustration (perhaps rage?) at the way that the West has, in his opinion, squandered the peace by continuing to support oppressive regimes that suit its economic interests. Like most of his best novels, it features characters torn between idealism and cynicism (Leamus, Smiley, Justin Quayle). And like most of Le Carre's novels, it is compelling, deftly sweeping the reader through, with just enough pause to enjoy his beautiful prose. Unfortunately, like his lesser works, it is not quite compelling enough to get away with some of the more contrived elements of its plot, which seem to me to offer extremely false dichotomies. In this sense, Our Game reminds me of Single and Single, but where the latter book seemed derivative of the previously published A Perfect Spy, Our Game seems like a blueprint for The Constant Gardener, which is one of the best books that I have ever read. That is, perhaps, its strongest recommendation.
From Martin Fredricsson: Very disappointed. I am a big fan of Le Carre, and that was one of the reasons I read the book (ok, listened to the unabridged audio version) to the very end - after all, his writing is, as always, excellent. Or maybe I simply enjoyed the narration by the brilliant Frederick Davidson. However, the plot is rather weak and totally unrealistic. It is definitely not a thriller. And, most importantly, Le Carre, probably unknowingly, but definitely unwisely, became a mouthpiece for Islamic insurgents. It is very clear that the author, just like his main characters, was brainwashed by the Ingush propagandists. Anyone who knows Caucasus can see that. He tells only one side of the story, and he heard it from the Ingush insurgents, not bothering to talk to the others, like the families of their many victims. It is obvious from the detailed descriptions that Le Carre visited the region, but he only listened to one side. The author glorifies and romanticises their "fight for freedom", while undeservedly demonising their neighbours, including the Ossetians, the most peaceful people on the whole of Caucasus, bullied for hundreds of years by Ingush, Chechens and Georgians. Some of the elements of the book are simply ridiculous, like the killing "Forest". He wrote the novel in 1995, when it was fashionable to compare Ingush and Chechens to the peoples that won independence from the Soviets only few years before that, like Estonians and Latvians. Well, the Ingush are no Estonians. Estonians sang their way to freedom. The Ingush were cutting people's heads off and torturing hostages, later moving on to a more efficient way of killing - terrorism. In fact, only in the last decade the terrorist acts either conducted by the Ingush (like explosions in Moscow airport or Vladikavkas market), or launched directly from Ingushetia (like the horrific Beslan school siege in Ossetia), killed more people than IRA and Hamas killed in their history - combined! Granted, most of this violence happened after Le Carre wrote "Our Game", but I still hold him accountable for being so irresponsible, allowing himself to be duped by the militants and becoming the mouthpiece for those who became the most dangerous violent Islamic extremists in the world. The Ingush (and Chechens, their close relatives) are a society traditionally based on violence and hatred, with medieval practices virtually legalized, like the blood vengeance or kidnapping of brides. Though we can argue about their history in the Russian empire (it is important to remember that Russian expansionism was always based on the need to secure the borders, unlike Western colonialism, with European powers colonizing countries thousands of miles away, purely for their resources), it is clear that Ingush were subjected to a brutal collective punishment by Stalin, who relocated them to Central Asia for mass collaboration with the Nazi forces (compare that with internment of Japanese-Americans, even though the enemy never even came close to the US mainland). 12 years later the Ingush returned, and they got back most of their land, and were compensated for the lost land both with new land and other benefits, including the right to resettle in North Ossetia's Prigorodny Rayon, mentioned in the book. During Gorbachev's reforms Ingush became the darlings of the human rights community, simply because of their history, and from then on they felt th