- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Scribner (February 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743458060
- ISBN-13: 978-0743458061
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 150 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Single & Single Paperback – February 1, 2003
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People Le Carré reveals a world at once deeply disquieting and oddly reassuring.
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.
About 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 Honorable Schoolboy; and Smiley’s People. His novels include The Constant Gardner, The Little Drummer Girl, A Perfect Spy, The Russia House, Our Game, The Tailor of Panama, and Single & Single. He lives in Cornwall, United Kingdom.
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Enter the “Russian mob”
In the 1990s, once the Berlin Wall was torn down and the Soviet Union fell apart, Russia entered into a period with the trappings of democracy. The change did not run deep, however. Effective control of Russian society shifted from a Communist hierarchy to criminal gangs widely known as “mafias.” There was no “Russian mob” as such. (However, that term may apply to Coney Island — and it might even be an apt description of Vladimir Putin and his cronies.) With connections to Boris Yeltsin‘s government, the most entrepreneurial of the mafias made their fortunes by snapping up formerly state-owned companies at bargain-basement rates through privatization. Le Carre writes about one such well-connected gang in Single & Single.
The novel’s title is the name of a wealthy and powerful London-based financial services firm. As we learn early in the story, the Single fortune is built on money-laundering for Russian criminals. The firm’s founder, Tiger Single, is ruthless. But his son, Oliver, gradually develops a conscience after he joins the company. Oliver’s agreement to serve as an informant for Her Majesty’s Customs Service is the linchpin on which the novel hangs.
International criminals and corrupt financiers in a tale of betrayal
The story opens with the brutal execution of Tiger’s attorney on a field in Western Turkey. That murder reflects the Russian gang’s mistaken belief that Tiger has been stealing from them. Meanwhile, Oliver’s relationship has deepened with Brock, the veteran senior Customs agent who is handling him. To gather evidence against the Russians and his father, and to identify the corrupt British police officers who have sold out to Tiger, Oliver becomes deeply involved in dealings with the Russian gangsters and their families. The scene shifts from Turkey to England to Armenia, where the gangsters are based. The tale is fast-moving, suspenseful, and shocking. If there’s a moral to this story, it’s that it’s dangerous to get involved with money-laundering for criminals. But some of us knew that already, right?
We are most concerned here with the British firm of Single & Single, a big name in international finance. Apparently their main business is money laundering. And the Russian (in this case mostly Georgian) criminal organization they have become involved with has gotten the idea Single’s has betrayed them, which leads to the opening scene of the book, the murder of one of Single’s lawyers.
From there the story is a little hard to follow. We are introduced to a harmless-seeming clown (literally – he does balloon animals at kids’ birthday parties and the like) who eventually turns out to be Oliver Single, son of Tiger Single, founder of Single & Single. There is a long segment of mostly flashbacks explaining his apparently rather brief career with the firm, which has led eventually to his confessing everything to Nathaniel Brock, a senior official for the British Customs office, which is in turn the eventual cause of his going into hiding as a clown. Brock’s primary interest appears to be not so much in bringing down Single’s or messing directly in the Russian criminal organizations as in tracking down and weeding out corrupt British officials of all kinds who are facilitating all this.
Eventually Oliver and Brock get together, and Brock tells Oliver what they know about the murder and that Tiger Single has disappeared. Apparently, he sends Oliver on a mission to find out the details of what has happened. The more Oliver discovers, the more concerned he becomes that his father is in danger. He finally decides to take off on his own to find his father, but is caught by the female agent Brock has paired him with for his investigations. Fortunately for Oliver, she slips off with him, and they make their way to the secret valley in Georgia where the crime family’s hideout is.
Although things appear to be mostly cleared up at the end, it seemed to me that there were still a lot of unresolved issues. Not sure how much of this is setting the stage for the next book (I believe there is at least one sequel to this one) and how much is just leaving you to wonder about what else is going on.