Master spy novelist John le Carré’s depictions of Cold War spy games carry such a strong whiff of inside knowledge that his books, to his obvious embarrassment, were considered essential reading by Russia’s KGB, and scrutinized by the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence. Despite predictions that the fall of the Berlin Wall and triumph of capitalism—“the end of history”—would also lead to his downfall as a novelist, the former British spy has kept writing. His latest and highly anticipated novel, A Legacy of Spies, is publishing this week.
Ahead of that, le Carré, now 85, has been making a round of interviews, reflecting searingly on what brought him to writing, and what he makes of the world we find ourselves in today, a quarter-century after the fall of the Soviet Union. Inevitably, interviewers can’t help but bring up the “nothing is what it seems” rumors swirling around the Donald Trump presidency, including the allegations of possible collusion between Trump and Moscow, and suspected Russian interference in the US presidential election.
In a fascinating conversation with host Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, where he credits his “pathological liar” father with turning him into first a spy, then a spy novelist, le Carré suggested how things might come to a head, referring initially to the dossier another former British spy allegedly assembled on a 2013 Trump visit to Moscow.
le Carré: …I think it’s perfectly possible that Trump was taken into what I call a honey trap—that he had ladies found for him, and he misbehaved in Russia… If that film was shown tomorrow worldwide, Trump would get away with it. People would say, well, “boys will be boys.” Or they would say the different parts of the body in the video don’t add up; this is all fake stuff. And 35 experts would testify to that—so wouldn’t get any distance on that.
But on the money, that’s a deep and persistent theme in Trump’s business affairs. It’s gone on for a long, long time. It relates, also, to a great extent to property held in the United States, which brings the thing closer to home. And it relates, also, to Mr. Trump’s family.
Gross: Do you think following the money is an especially good course because of the power of oligarchs and…
le Carré: So, yes…
Gross: …in Russia?
le Carré: The power of oligarchs in Russia, what the oligarchs have lent Trump directly or indirectly for his enterprises, the protection they’ve given him in far places. But none of that will play so well for the downfall of Trump as the domestic stuff, as the properties that he owns around America: how they’ve been bought, who they’ve been bought by, in what sums, whether the sums were actually consonant, whether they were gross, whether they look like some kind of backhander or bribe, and the extraordinary number of Russians with criminal records or Eastern Europeans with criminal records who frequent Trump’s company.
In the end, it seems to me, some of this has got to come home to roost. And I think there might be a point—I hope there will be a point—when somebody goes to Trump and says, your family is so deeply involved in this that you have a choice: You either fade away or we disrupt the house of Trump in ways that would be very painful to you.
The entire interview, particularly on the influence of the novelist’s swindler father—a man le Carré describes as a “slightly Trumpoid” narcissist and small-time illegal arms dealer who tried to sue his son for not mentioning him in a BBC documentary—is well worth a listen.