Our Kind of Napoleonic Soldier: John Le Carre

the book:

Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre

published 2010  chapter 12


Settling at Perry’s side in the twelfth row of the western stand of the Roland Garros Stadium, Gail stares incredulously at the band of Napoleon’s Garde Republicaine in their brass helmets, red cockades, skin-tight white breeches and thigh-length boots as they roll out their kettledrums and give their bugles a final blow before their conductor mounts his wooden rostrum, suspends his white-gloved hands above his head, spreads his fingers and flutters them like a dress designer. Perry is talking to her but has to repeat himself. She turns her head to him, then leans it on his shoulder to calm herself, because she’s trembling. And so in his own way is Perry, because she can hear the pulse of his body – boom boom.

‘Is this the Men’s Singles Finals or the Battle of Borodino?’ he shouts gaily, pointing at Napoleon’s troops….

Napoleon’s band is very loud. Whole regiments could march to it and never return.

observations: It IS the tennis final, rather than the battle, so probably they weren’t on horseback, but the uniform is dead right.

Perry and Gail are going to enjoy the tennis very much, but, as this is a John Le Carre book, there is more to it than that, and they are hooking up with a Russian master-criminal, guided by a sub-branch of British Intelligence. JLeC has taken his leap beyond the Cold War, and in this book money-laundering and the Russian mafia are the new spies and security threats. It’s a good story, and the tension rises dramatically in the last 50 pages, but the ending was a huge disappointment – sudden, dramatic, and absolutely no tying up of loose ends, everyone left hanging. There are reviewers who say this is wonderful, real, inevitable etc, but total disagreement round here.

John le Carre seems like a nice man – all interviews with him are very entertaining – and he has a touch of idealism and sentimentality at the bottom of his cynical thrillers. The idea has been floated that he made up most of his jargon and detail of Service practices - but that he is keenly read in security circles, and that they have adopted many of his turns of phrase. A similar situation apparently arose with the Mafia: they liked the book and film of The Godfather so much they took the language on wholesale.

Links up with: Espionage
here, high-powered Russians here, for more tennis click below.

The picture is of a military figurine of Napoleon’s cavalry standard bearer, made by Artig Tin Soldiers. The photograph came from
Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Moira - John le Carré is to one of the most talented writers of espionage and other thrillers that we've had. He writes such good characters and tight, well-constructed plots. I'm very, very glad you featured him today.

  2. Thanks Margot. I'd love to know what you thought of the ending of this book, I really want someone to explain to me why it's a reasonable ending....? I too am a big fan, you always know you'll be entertained by a JleC book, don't you?

  3. I agree with you that the last 50 pages (or 30-40 minutes of the audio book) were quite suspenseful...but in my mind that didn't really make up for the previous 10+ hours of tedium. I did not find this one of JLC's better books. As for the ending...all I really remember is it was very abrupt (the only part of the book that didn't drag on with irrelevant details) but I can't recall the specifics so can't really say now whether I thought it was a reasonable ending or not. I do remember thinking that JLC had gotten as bored by the whole thing as I was and just stopped writing ;)

  4. Thanks Bernadette - that's hilarious, I did enjoy it but I do know exactly what you mean about the endless detail. Sometimes I can be in the mood for that, and sometimes I react as you did....

  5. And that's a fascinating thought that spies and the mafia adopted the language of fiction! It makes you wonder which other writers had the same influence - Oscar Wilde, perhaps? Or Dickens?


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