Picks and Pans Review: Our Game

updated 05/01/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/01/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by John Le Carré

In the most thoughtful—and arguably the best—of his works since Smiley's People, Le Carré explores the deconstruction of Soviet Russia and, more dramatically, the sea changes it has inspired among the British cold warriors who spent their lives spying on it—and sometimes for it.

The playing field is not as level as it once was, but the Game is still afoot. Tim Cranmer, a rather stuffy, pensioned-off secret service controller, has restlessly retired to his inherited country estate. He runs a small vineyard, tries to be interested in local politics and finds comfort with Emma, a childish idealist half his age. Then Larry Pettifer, a school chum, a reckless heart-breaker and an effective double agent who was run by Tim, shows up. Pettifer, always led by passion rather than plan, spouts a plea to support the rights of ethnic minorities in the former USSR: Soon Emma and Larry have disappeared from England. Tim's old service is interested in why, and Tim himself is determined to track them down.

With each step on his suspenseful, finely detailed voyage of discovery, Tim peels away another illusion about life, love and the nature of fidelity, while the ageless demons of head and heart wrestle in the wings. Tim sees the world's problems as a distant, insoluble cacophony. Larry stands on the other side of the ethical chasm, eager to embrace local causes. In the rubble of a small village, Tim—and Le Carré—make a wobbly but surprising leap over that abyss, changing the game forever. (Knopf, $24)

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