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272 of 281 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping Espionage Thriller - 1st In Smiley /Karla Trilogy, November 29, 2003
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This review is from: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Paperback)
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" has been called the best espionage novel ever written. John Le Carre's cynical and spellbinding spy thrillers are so unique because they are based on a wide knowledge of international espionage. Le Carre, (pen name for David John Moore Cornwell), acquired this knowledge firsthand during his years as an operations agent for the British M15. Kim Philby, the infamous mole, actually gave Le Carre's name to the Soviets long before he defected. The author's professional experience and his tremendous talent as a master storyteller and superb writer make this book one of the best novels I have read in the genre.
"Tinker, Tailor..." is the first in what has come to be called LeCarré's "Karla (or Smiley) Trilogy", in which English spy George Smiley is pitted against the Soviet spymaster Karla. Written during the Cold War, it is a portrait of that time, with its paranoid and morally ambiguous view of global politics.
A botched espionage operation in Czechoslovakia causes "Control," (Head of British Intelligence), and his associates to be discredited. "Control," already ill and aging quickly, dies soon after this debacle. George Smiley, his able lieutenant, is retired in disgrace. The two are succeeded by four "young turks," all highly ambitious men from Intelligence who had been trained by "Control" and Smiley. Months later, a maverick Far Eastern agent turns up in London with a story suggesting there is a mole (a deeply concealed double agent) in the Circus (Intelligence HQ). Smiley is called out of retirement to investigate the possibility that a Soviet mole has penetrated the very top levels of the British Secret Service. The "Tinker, Tailor..." nursery rhyme of the title refers to the codewords for the four prime suspects - the four men now running the Service. Smiley's job is to find the double agent. However the entire Intelligence network is so suspect that he must operate entirely without its resources, for fear of alerting the mole. Therefore he must operate undercover from his own people. This novel has more in common with the guessing-game puzzle of a great whodunit than with the typical action-packed spy thriller. Smiley gradually pieces together the story by analyzing files, interrogating witnesses and scouring his own memory and those of other retired Intelligence personnel, until he finally unmasks the traitor at the heart of the Circus.
This is not a simple, easy to read book. There is personal and public betrayal along with the treason of an unknown colleague. Smiley's beautiful, upperclass wife has been unfaithful with at least one of his associates, adding stress to his urgent, high-pressured assignment. Although Le Carre's novels are well-written and convincing, they can be very complicated - and this book is an example of one of his more complex endeavors. The storyline is not linear, and contains many subplots. Much is left for the reader to puzzle out, at least until the end. Just like the spies, themselves, the reader only observes the outward actions of the characters, and must piece together the facts without the assistance of an omniscient narrator. Some may find that it is difficult to get started with this novel, and once started, even harder to see where one is going. The effort to stay with Le Carre is well worth it though. A big part of the fun is working out the puzzle along with George Smiley.
An FYI: The other two books in the series are "The Honourable Schoolboy," and "Smiley's People." ENJOY!!
JANA
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Initial post: May 14, 2012 12:39:43 PM PDT
Closely agree with this review. In addition, I submit that part of the novel's value is the clear mirror it presents of the complicated morass we make of this world. We start out with a simple tiny act of deception, then add obfuscation, denials, coverups, misinterpretations of others' acts, mixed up with our own partial perceptions, and the product is considerable damage to ourselves and others. This scenario is clearly presented by Le Carre without a single word of preaching, but with a clear mirror of the damage caused by the Circus Menagerie called Humanity. We meet the Circus cast of actors, and it is us. That's why this novel is extra fascinating.
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