Spies and?Russians in classic le Carré London

by john le carré
Viking, £18.99

A LE Carré book is an event whether you’re a fan or not. He is the last great British thriller writer, a former spy for MI5 and MI6, and a man with an intellectually political core. He also manages to provide page-turners in a way that makes Dan Brown’s attempts at writing seem ludicrous and cheap.

Having left his old favourite topic of the Cold War behind, le Carré has embraced such modern crises as the war on terror, post-Soviet Russian gangsters and their skulduggery, and the underhanded behaviour of big business in the developing world. He is, perhaps surprisingly, a lefty through and through.

In his latest book, a smart young couple – Perry, an Oxford professor and Gail, a lawyer – head to Antigua for a tennis holiday. Once there, they meet Dima, a tattooed Russian gangster who oozes money. A money launderer who has spent 15 years in prison, Dima is wanted dead by some of the fouler elements in his world, and desperately wants to attain a safe-haven in England with his daughter at Roedean. Gail and Perry become roped in as the middlemen between Dima and the British secret service – in return for asylum, Dima’s prepared to vomit up reams of top secret names and crimes that are more shocking than anyone at MI6 had imagined. As usual with le Carré, machinations in London are just as corrupt as those in Russia and those official agents meant to be patriotic and loyal are, in the end, easily bought off.

The book is sophisticated and thrilling – but not always as juicy as it could be. One has the sense that Le Carré is getting a bit tired, perhaps a bit bored of spinning these psychologically-embellished tales of intrigue. The only real flaw, though, is Gail and Perry’s involvement – just why they’re willing to put their lives at risk for a minor oligarch is never quite clear. Suspending disbelief for more minor authors is one thing; with le Carré, one rather hopes not to have to do it.

Harper Collins, £7.99

THE new book from The Devil Wears Prada author should satisfy any literary sweet tooth. Brooke and Julian live happily in New York; she’s the breadwinner and he’s a struggling musician. Suddenly he is discovered by a Sony exec and becomes a star. When Julian is photographed in a compromising position at the Chateau Marmont, Brooke has to decide if she’s going to sink or swim.