On a small, exclusive Caribbean resort island, a bald, barrel-chested Russian in his 50s approaches Perry, a thirty-something English amateur tennis player, and in a tone that commands -- not asks -- says, "Wanna game?" ¶ So begins the drama of Dima, the extraordinary money launderer for the Russian mafia. Only surprise, surprise, he wants out of the racket, a desire that if known would enrage his bosses. Dima seductively anoints a couple -- Perry, a naive Oxford don, and Gail, his lover -- to relay his deadly secret to MI5 agents, offering to trade a treasure trove of information for a safe haven to stash his strange family.

But then the whole thing turns nasty.

Nasty, because legitimate companies set up and financed by scrubbed criminal cash are fronted by some powerfully connected members of Parliament; nasty because several important London banks were being propped up by the laundered money, the "only liquid private investment" available during the Great Recession, and finally, nasty because the British intelligence community's interagency warfare converts Dima's promised gift into a threat.

Caught in a vortex of spellbinding dialogue, the reader is sucked into the conflicted souls that inhabit this story. John LeCarré is at his best here, capturing both the endearing qualities and flaws of his characters. There's Perry, the Oxford don whose overprotective chivalry nearly usurps Gail's choice to be involved. Gail, a rising star London lawyer who stumbles into a hidden and disturbing side of herself; Hector, the aging sidelined intelligence lion who seizes one last chance to try to do the right thing, and Dima, whose complex motivations careen wildly into one another.

The riveting narrative flows effortlessly until it falters for a moment. In order to explain the complexity of laundering, LeCarré uses an awkward device of listening to a recording of Dima's examples of his activity. At that point the story's intricate tango momentarily stumbles, but within a few pages the dance recovers.

In "Our Kind of Traitor," LeCarré continues his long exploration of the nature and power of large bureaucratic organizations and how they subjugate and betray individual hopes and dreams in order to achieve their ends. Charles Dickens would love LeCarré's grasping of dark moral issues threatening to destroy our human values, along with Hector's challenge to Perry -- and us: "Dima is holding out to you, as I am, an opportunity to do something instead of bleating about it."

Doug Wallace is an essayist on the philosophy and spirituality of LeCarré. He lives in Minneapolis.