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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A George Smiley Novel Paperback – October 5, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 474 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The premier spy novelist of his time. Perhaps of all time.”—Time

“A rattling good novel.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“John le Carré is the great master of the spy story…the constant flow of emotion lifts him not only above all modern suspense novelists, but above most novelists now practicing.”—Financial Times

“Stunning.”—Wall Street Journal

From the Publisher

John Le Carre's internationally famous hero, British Secret Service Agent George Smiley, has a world-class problem. He has discovered a mole--a Soviet double agent who has managed to burrow his way up to the highest level of British Intelligence. Under the direction of Karla, Smiley's equivelent in the Soviet Union, the agent has already blown some of the most vital secret operations and most productive networks. Now-how can Smiley use a lifetime's worth of espionage skills to ferret out a spy who posseses them as well?

"A stunning story of espionage."--The Wall Street Journal.

"Le Carre is simply the world's greatest fictional spymaster."--Newsweek --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1ST edition (October 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014312093X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143120933
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (474 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Jana L.Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 29, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"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...
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Format: Audio Cassette
Here's one attempt at a book review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which I consider is a classic in its own way.
The arrival of a schoolmaster at a remote English boarding school is the unlikely beginning of a master spy-story. If the reader has perused the dust jacket, he is left wondering where the connection is. A bit boring in the beginning, the start of the novel is far from spectacular. Characters unfold almost as an aside. Connections are not evident. When the hero of the novel, George Smiley makes his entrance it is almost as an afterthought.
Far unlike Ian Flemming with his techno-laden James Bond licensed to kill, Le Carre's George Smiley is a prosaic, pedantic, lugubrious, painstaking, ordinary mortal with an orderly mind. He is a hero like no other. Not for him the flashy glamour of the spy world popularized by Alistair McLean, Ian Flemming, and others of their ilk. Smiley's heroism lies in this mediocre methodic brilliance. And in his prodigious memory.
Cast away from the "circus", he is called in from retirement to trap a mole high up in the secret service. His fall from grace is more a reflection of the times than his inherent worth. As the bureaucratic battles yield new order in the ranks of service, Smiley, of the old order, is viewed with suspicion and forced into retirement. But much as the irrepressible James Bond could not be done away by his numerous enemies, Smiley's brilliance cannot be dispensed with by the Service. At a time when no one in the service can be trusted, when it is painfully obvious that one amongst the trusted four is a mole, Smiley is called in for his analysis. Nowhere is it stated that Smiley is brilliant. Nor does he appear to have any special skills.
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Format: Paperback
For a good positive summary of the book, see the review by Jana Perskie.

Now here's my thoughts: LeCarre's book isn't "bad" per se, but it is definitely a different style from most other spy genre novels. Remember, it was written in the 1970s - so forget the 'techno-thriller' books that Clancey made famous in the late 80s. LeCarre's books - this one included - were however an intellectual step up from the earlier spy/action thrillers...
The problem most readers will have is that there is almost NO action. Roughly speaking, its about Geo.Smiley trying to solve a problem (a mole) in the "Circus" using clues from the past. So a lot of it is contemplative and revolves around the "old boys" of the organization talking in circles at times about their experiences (reminds me of Kerouac and "On the Road"). The writing is very circumspect - and introspective - in that regard.
There are no Jack Ryans here, no cowboy heroes. The characters are all upper class (or have the pretensions, if not the birthright), understated Englishmen, and working in a decidedly bleak period. In fact, LeCarre's style seems to reflect the malaise of England and the west in general of the early 70s. That is due mostly to LeCarre's focus on the mental maze Smiley must navigate which leaves little room for descriptive settings or surroundings. Colors, seasons, etc (or rather, the lack) all seem to suggest a perpetually gray, damp late autumn day at 5 PM...

This is NOT an easy read - one must concentrate, just like Smiley. Don't expect to be able to put it down and pick back up repeatedly without losing the plot. This is a wintertime book, one to read when its rainy and you have nothing pressing to do (and nothing on your mind).

Its worth reading as an example of a more mature spy (or even drama) genre. But it is easy to see how the modern spy novel (techno-thriller) has supplanted the Karla-trilogy style for most readers...
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