24/40: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (by John le Carré)

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
by John le Carré
Book #1 in The Karla Trilogy
Book #3 in the George Smiley series
Book #6 set in The Circus
Originally published in the US in 1974 by Random House
Movie Tie-In edition featured above published in 2011 by Penguin
SPY THRILLER

WHO: George Smiley, former British intelligence officer…

WHAT: is recalled, under extremely discrete auspices …

WHERE: to “The Circus” (the service itself which derives its name from its headquarters’ address at the Cambridge Circus, a roundabout in London)…

WHEN: in the early 1970s (less than a decade after the UK intelligence service was rocked by The Cambridge Five scandal, IRL (see Kim Philby’s memoir, My Silent War))…

WHY: to flush out a mole.

HOW: George must puzzle out who the mole is through archival evidence, witnesses, and his understanding of people and spy craft.

+ It is impossible to overstate le Carré’s brilliance as a writer. The antithesis of Ian Fleming’s novels (i.e. James Bond,) le Carré’s books are smart and sophisticated in their world-building, plot construction, character creation and suspense. Once written as contemporary works to the story lines within, le Carré’s novels are now considered historical fiction reflecting The Cold War era and are a far cry from the pulp that you might expect when you see them categorized as spy thrillers. While this can be said of much of le Carré’s work, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is especially well done: tight, plausible and thrilling.

+ Though part of a series, any of le Carré’s novels can be read as a stand alone and/or in any order. Le Carré doesn’t ham-fistedly insert recaps, instead referring to past story lines artfully and without undue emphases. That said, there is still a richness to the stories that accrues having read le Carré’s works in order of publication. 

+ In light of recent events in the U.S. (Assange and Snowden,)  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is particularly relevant, moved from being a dated fiction to an insightful modern allegory. 

If you are looking for flashy cars, sexy men & women and, clever gadgets, this is not the book/series for you. Le Carré’s characters are human: flawed and often sordid. There is a darkness to The Circus, stemming from the vivd depictions of seeming moral ambivalence and unpleasant outcomes. 

QUOTE: I love this NYT Book Review interview, “James McBride: By the Book”  for the quote about George Smiley, “Smiley understands. Smiley takes it across the face. Smiley’s got a job to do. Smiley’s got a broken heart. Smiley can take it.” 

OTHER: I purchased a used print copy of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (by John le Carré) from Green Earth Books via Alibris.com.  

I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

I have challenged myself to read forty books this summer. Many books will be backlist titles as I’m trying to clear the stacks; but I have no doubt that new releases will make their way in too! 😉

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