Colorful Crime Boss Inspires Le Carre's 'Traitor' For his 22nd novel, celebrated author and former intelligence officer John le Carre found inspiration in a real Russian criminal. Our Kind Of Traitor details the shady activities of a crime lord named Dima operating in Moscow's underworld of dirty money.
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Colorful Crime Boss Inspires Le Carre's 'Traitor'

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Colorful Crime Boss Inspires Le Carre's 'Traitor'

Colorful Crime Boss Inspires Le Carre's 'Traitor'

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

D: Welcome to the program once again.

DAVID CORNWELL: Thank you.

SIEGEL: The plot here that is to be undone involves international money laundering, which is a real evil in the world, as you see it.

CORNWELL: So we're not talking about the dirty work of criminals. We're talking about the complicity of big banks.

SIEGEL: Your latest novel involves banks, politicians and criminals, and this interesting Russian character, Dimas. After all these years, long after the Cold War is done, Russians continue to fascinate you and to be compelling, I gather.

CORNWELL: Yeah. I first went to Russia just before the wall came down. and then I went very soon afterwards in 1991, and then it really was the Wild East. I don't think it's much less wild now, in the ordinary terms of running a democracy that we would understand. It continues to fascinate me. And it continues, I think, to fascinate us all and alarm us slightly.

LOUISE KELLY: And finally, he came in at sort of 2:00 in the morning with his bodyguards and pretty girls. And he looked ridiculously like Kojak used to look in those days.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNWELL: Is a time going to come, Dima, when you're going to do the same thing? And he gave me a long, long voluble Russian reply, and I thought I was really getting an intelligent answer. But when it was boiled down, what he was saying, according to my interpreter, was that I should go to hell.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNWELL: So much for my beastly British theoretical approach to him.

SIEGEL: But this real-life Dima, he had been a prisoner somewhere?

CORNWELL: Yeah, that's right.

SIEGEL: That history, and also rubbed shoulders with very rich people in the new Russia?

CORNWELL: And I began to realize that in Dima there was a confused morality from which we could learn something.

SIEGEL: Now, people who have not had the chance to read your book yet wouldn't pick up on this. But you were describing Dima, the real-life character you met, and Dima, the character in the novel, are - they're one and the same. I mean, the background you're describing is the background of the character.

CORNWELL: But he kind of hung around as a character to be written about and developed one day.

SIEGEL: Now, I want to ask you about an Englishman, a character in "Our Kind of Traitor," who is Perry or Peregrine Makepiece. He's a very earnest character.

CORNWELL: And for me, he represents at the moment the current dismay of the young, liberal intellectual of Europe - or for that matter, of the United States.

SIEGEL: Living in a time when it's very difficult to find purpose in what one does?

CORNWELL: But the other huge issues are almost too daunting for any one person of my guy's age to address - the ecology, all of those things.

SIEGEL: Now, let me ask you about something that you said: On September 13th, you told British television interviewer Jon Snow that that was your last British television interview.

CORNWELL: And I decided that I was old enough and secure enough in myself not to want that anymore. So far from retiring from writing, I simply want to devote myself to writing full time and just keep my head down. I think I write better than I speak.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Well, does the end of U.K. television interviews also include American radio interviews? Is this our last conversation, David?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNWELL: No, I think we - let's hope, now and then, we could keep the door open, Robert. I hope so very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Well, okay. Well, David Cornwell, John le Carre, I look forward to our next conversation. And thank you very much.

CORNWELL: Yeah, let's try and have one.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Okay.

CORNWELL: Thank you very much, Robert.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: And John le Carre's new novel is called "Our Kind of Traitor."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LOUISE KELLY: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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