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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le…

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (original 1974; edition 1974)

by John Le Carre

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,757131983 (4.02)341
Title:Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Authors:John Le Carre
Info:Alfred A. Knopf (1974), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 355 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:thrillers, espionage

Work details

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré (1974)

  1. 30
    The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carré (longway)
  2. 00
    The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (tandah)
    tandah: A different era, but similar pacing and sense of foreboding.
  3. 00
    Declare by Tim Powers (LamontCranston)
  4. 11
    The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: More perfect atmosphere.
  5. 11
    Game, Set & Match by Len Deighton (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Another great trilogy.
  6. 11
    The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carré (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Setting the oeuvre.
  7. 12
    The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross (wvlibrarydude)
  8. 18
    Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy (Hedgepeth)
    Hedgepeth: Red Rabbit is any early case in Jack Ryans career that is not as action driven as some of the other novels. It moves a little faster than Tinker, Tailor but should still appeal to those who appreciate a more methodical pace.

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Showing 1-5 of 122 (next | show all)
This is one of the great spy novels, and is clearly modelled in no small degree on the story of Kim Philby, the 'Third Man' who not only tipped off Burgess and MacLean in 1951 and allowed them to escape before they could be arrested for leaking secrets, but then escaped himself in 1963 after his guilt had eventually been uncovered.

Set at the height of the Cold War it recounts the search for a 'mole' within the upper echelons of the Secret Service. George Smiley, 'an old spy in a hurry' is brought back from the involuntary retirement into which he had been pushed just a couple of years previously. He reluctantly accedes to be commissioned to investigate an allegation that one of the four officers at the head of MI6 might in fact be a long-established Russian spy.

'It's the oldest question of all, George. Who can spy on the spies? Who can smell out the fox without running with him?' This is the question put to Smiley by Oliver Lacon, 'Whitehall's head prefect' after he has explained the evidence that has finally convinced him of the existence of the mole. There are four suspects: Percy Alleline ('Tinker'), dour Scotsman and acting Chief of Service; Bill Haydon ('Tailor'), flamboyant wunderkind, alternately mentor and hero to the Service's younger generation of aspirants; Roy Bland ('Soldier'), would-be academic and ultimate self-seeking pragmatist; and Toby Esterhase ('Poor Man'), opportunistic Hungarian émigré desperate for promotion and convinced that no-one shows him the respect he deserves.

Control, the former head of the Service, had reached managed to reach this far before, acting entirely on his own, but as his health rapidly failed he embarked upon one wild last throw to flush the traitor out. This was the venture subsequently known as 'Operation Testify', alluded to throughout the book though the full extent of its disastrous nature is only revealed near the end.

The reverberations of Operation Testify echo through the Service for years afterwards. Control is forced into retirement and dies almost immediately. In the reorganisation that followed Smiley was also pushed into retirement. Alleline takes over, with Haydon as his deputy, and the new world order seem to have begun.

On the other side of the world, however, Ricki Tarr, a rough and ready member of the Service, accustomed to infiltrating gun-running gangs, meets Irina, a Russian agent in Hong Kong. Their affair is hectic and hasty, and she tells Tarr of the greatest secret that she knows: there is a Soviet mole, with the code name 'Gerald' in the highest echelons of the Service. She does not know many details but does have enough facts to convince Tarr that she is telling the truth. He passes the information back to the Circus, but receives no reply. However, Irina is almost immediately rounded up by her Soviet minders and shipped back to Russia.

Tarr goes underground and eventually makes his way back to London where he contacts Guillam, and through him Lacon. The witch hunt has begun. Smiley has to track them down through the paperwork, secured through deft chicanery by his one ally on the inside, the redoubtable Peter Guillam whose own career was truncated.

Le Carre offers none of the glamour and fantasy world cavortings of Ian Fleming's 'James Bond' novels. Smiley and his associates have to grapple with the shabby and entirely mundane underbelly of the espionage world, working back through the files, and eye-witness accounts of previous failed operations. There is absolutely no glamour or sparkle about the story at all, though that serves to boost its compelling nature.

It is also immensely redolent of the early 1970s. All the way through the book characters are freezing cold, huddled in their coats and struggling to generate any warmth at all. The enigmas and moral dilemmas, though, remain timeless.

This is a fascinating and engaging novel, that improves with every re-reading. The excellent BBC television series captured the feel of the novel very well,though the book (as is so often the case) is even better. Don't bother with the Gary Oldman film though - I haven't seen such a dreadful screen adaptation of an excellent book since they butchered [The Bonfire of the Vanities]. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Sep 24, 2015 |
  Brenada | Sep 8, 2015 |
A brilliant book! ( )
  E. | Aug 27, 2015 |
George Smiley lives in a very scary world. Although he is a patriot, his is not a blind patriotism; he recognizes the world situation as complex and does the best he can as a spy and as a person. He tries to know his conscience and to act in accord with it. Smiley is also very good at what he does, and uses "gut feeling" successfully to inform his actions. Unfortunately, his gut feeling about the mole is hidden within the negative gut feeling that is based on other inappropriate behavior in which the mole is engaged. This was an interesting method of protecting the mole, since Smiley's skill set as a spy provided accurate gut feelings about a variety of situations. It is easy to see how one reaction could hide the feeling inspired something else. This is a unique exploration of intuition. Smiley is a truly enjoyable character. He makes mistakes sometimes and is not a stereotypical spy, and this book was quite engrossing. ( )
  karmiel | Aug 16, 2015 |
The best thing about this book is the rich atmosphere, which I have elsewhere read described as Tolkien-esque, thickly populated with towering, conflicted and secretive characters. The jargon of the British spy trade - "lamplighters," "product," "handwriting," "trade-craft," "hoods," "sound-thieves," etc etc, is both endless and a delight to chew on, like nuts from a bowl. This is one of those novels that respects you as a reader, takes your intelligence seriously by relying on your ability to make leaps of intuition over sensibly placed gaps in explanation (the movie pulled off this effect excellently also), and admits you to the inside of a story where professional intrigue and personal hopes and failures constantly bleed over into each other. The plot is intricate and satisfying at every stage, and ends in a lovely, strong mix of revelation and irreparable tragedy.

If I were to compare Le Carrè's book to any of the Jas. Bond series, the former would be like Sherlock Holmes and the latter more like the old Adam West version of Batman.

I saw the 2012 movie release of this book and then listened to the audiobook read in the tough, marble-smooth voice of Michael Jayston (who played Peter Guillam in the 1970s BBC production), and I can hardly imagine enjoying one without the other. They're both excellent. ( )
2 vote joeld | Aug 7, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 122 (next | show all)
10 of the Greatest Cold War Spy Novels
“Like Fleming, Le Carré (real name: David John Moore Cornwall) worked for British intelligence. But where Fleming used his WW 2 experiences as a springboard for fantasy, Le Carre turned his Cold War service into grimly realistic novels. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963) trumped Deighton as a response to James Bond’s glamourous world of espionage, and he continues to turn out fine work to this day. Tinker charts the search for a Soviet mole in the upper echelons of British intelligence, providing Le Carré’s signature character – the low-key professional George Smiley – with a late-in-the-game chance to reclaim his standing in the Circus (MI6), made bittersweet by betrayal. A fine BBC serialization in 1974 was followed by an equally well-received feature-film version in 2011.”
Karla is finally lured across a Berlin bridge and into the West. But, again, what figure is cut by the evil mastermind when he appears? “He wore a grimy shirt and a black tie: he looked like a poor man going to the funeral of a friend.” Le Carré has never written a better sentence, one so impatient of ideology and so attentive to what he, following W. H. Auden, describes plainly as “the human situation.” The television series of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” has lost none of its grip, and the new film will recruit new friends to the cause; but if we seek George Smiley and his people, with their full complement of terrors, illusions, and shames, we should follow the example of the ever-retiring Smiley, and go back to our books. That’s the truth
added by John_Vaughan | editNew Yorker, Anthony Lane (Dec 14, 2011)
The power of the novel is that le Carré transfigured espionage – its techniques, failures and deceptions – into a rich metaphor combining national decay, the disintegration of certainties with advancing age, the impossibility of knowing another human being's mind, the fragility of all trust and loyalty.
added by thorold | editThe Observer, Neal Ascherson (Sep 11, 2011)
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is fluently written; it is full of vivid character sketches of secret agents and bureaucrats from all levels of British society , and the dialogue catches their voices well. The social and physical details of English life and the day to day activities of the intelligence service at home and abroad are convincing. Unlike many writers Le Carré is at his best showing men hard at work; he is fascinated by the office politics of the agency since the war.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Richard Locke (Jul 20, 1974)

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John le Carréprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Le Carre, Johnmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Davidson, FrederickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Greenburger, FrancescoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jayston, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laing, TimIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soellner, HeddaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soellner, RolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woolfitt, AdamCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743457900, Paperback)

John le Carre's classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge and have earned him -- and his hero, British Secret Service agent George Smiley -- unprecedented worldwide acclaim.

A modern masterpiece in which le Carre expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" begins George Smiley's chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.

It is now beyond doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. It is clear that the double agent is one of its own kind. But which one? George Smiley is assigned to identify him. And once identified, the traitor must be destroyed.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:53 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

British agent George Smiley hunts for a mole in the Secret Service and begins his epic game of international chess with his Soviet counterpart, an agent named Karla.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 11 descriptions

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