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Spy Novel Review – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

The British spy service is in shambles. It collects no product. Long-time bosses have been given their walking papers. The resulting reshuffle of duties has demoralized the remaining old timers. However, a minister and his minion bring a low-level agent to the attention of terminated spy master George Smiley. The agent’s story sends Smiley on a hunt for a possible mole who is passing secrets to the Russians.

The novel seems like a mystery since it has multiple interviews with a variety of characters, five suspects, startling twists and an exciting reveal. But it treats themes such as disillusionment, the end of the British Empire, marital dissolution, and the workaday life in a large bureaucracy. LeCarre also uses devices – such as the weather, remote places, and the focus on hands – for more literary effect than we expect in a mystery or spy novel.

In a BBC Radio “Front Row” interview in 2009, John LeCarre said that John Bingham’s crime novels such as My Name is Michael Sibley, published in the 1950s when the two men worked together in British intelligence, inspired LeCarre to write his first two books, Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality. Some critics go so far as to call Bingham the inspiration for George Smiley, but Bingham disliked le Carré’s portrayal of world-weary, cynical spies.

 

 

 

 

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