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A Legacy of Spies (2017)

by John le Carré

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: George Smiley (9)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,516619,377 (3.89)41
"The undisputed master returns with a riveting new book--his first Smiley novel in more than twenty-five years Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, and involved such characters as Alec Leamas, Jim Prideaux, George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinized by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications. Interweaving past with present so that each may tell its own intense story, John le Carre has spun a single plot as ingenious and thrilling as the two predecessors on which it looks back:The Spy Who Came in from the ColdandTinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In a story resonating with tension, humor and moral ambivalence, le Carre and his narrator Peter Guillam present the reader with a legacy of unforgettable characters old and new"--… (more)
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» See also 41 mentions

English (49)  German (4)  Catalan (2)  Danish (2)  Spanish (2)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Context, this is the first Le Carre i've read, the espionage genre not being a favourite of mine. My only Le Carre experience is the last film adaptation of Tinker, Tailor and the Nightmanager mini-series.

While there are clearly at least a couple of other Le Carre stories being referenced in this i didn't find that offputting or detrimental to the book.
Overall its a well crafted and detailed plot with likable characters and while not much in the way of action its realistic and generally compelling.
I did however have a few issues with it that could have brought the rating down but i decided it was still worth the 4-stars in the end.

So the very general plot is that in modern day questions are being asked about an old operation called Windfall. So you have a lot of back and forth between the present and past.
First issue is that Windfall only actually starts about half or maybe two-thirds of the way through the novel. So when we finally get to that point it undercuts everything thats gone before, makes it feel a little pointless. I don't think it's a good narrative device to make the majority of your book feel like prologue. Don't get me wrong all of the previous stuff is great, its only when i realized that it was all preamble to the actual Windfall operation that it put a bad taste in my mouth.

My other minor issues are about the endings, there are of course two of them one for Windfall in the past and one for the present. In the present it feels a bit Deux Ex Machina and also some of the characterization of one of the final people to appear just felt... odd. Some of it was good but some not so good.

As for the climax of Windfall, what the entire book feels like its been leading up to... amazingly this is the one place the author decides to skimp on the details. All this build up and yes we get the general outline of what happened but far less information than i would have liked.
Perhaps the author felt he'd dropped enough hints throughout, that it would be insulting to the reader to do a blow-by-blow at the end but i certainly wanted a more indepth account.

As a whole though, undoubtedly well written, but didn't convert me to an espionage fan.

Edit: Having looked at some other reviews i now understand a lot of the details i was missing are from another Le Carre novel [b:The Spy Who Came In from the Cold|19494|The Spy Who Came In from the Cold|John le Carré|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1327719782s/19494.jpg|1177001]. ( )
  wreade1872 | Nov 28, 2021 |
Another great le Carre work; and this one weaves the past and the present; and I love that Peter is the center of this one. Now on to read The Spy Who Came in From The Cold (of which I have vague memories of having seen decades ago the movie with Richard Burton)

(Libby) ( )
  jimgosailing | Nov 18, 2021 |
Peter Guillam is summoned from retirement in France to answer questions about a Circus cold war operation in Berlin which resulted in two deaths. Relatives of the dead believe they have uncovered details from old Stasi files, which suggest negligence by the Circus in general and Guillam in particular, which justify large damages. Guillam is lead through the existing paper trail, reliving the operations with attempts to incriminate himself. Fascinating window into the Cold War and in particular divided Berlin. ( )
1 vote edwardsgt | Sep 28, 2021 |
This was a wonderful book that I read in essentially a single day. The thing about all the le Carré books is that he creates IMMEDIATE connection to characters and places. Within 2 paragraphs I feel like I know where I am and while I think I know the characters they are always onions with many layers. This book is perfectly arranged and sequenced which is amazing given the number of flashbacks needed to tell the story. So many of the characters are familiar from the other Smiley novels and they remain consistent but are expanded. I'm old enough that I often run into people discussing events which I have witnessed for which they are too young to have direct experience. Often they lack the necessary context to truly understand the choices made and they simply view everything through the glasses of their current day experience. This book shows that happening, instead of telling which is what weak story tellers do. I suspect that le Carré writing long hand has something to do with his pacing and his absolute patience with letting the story unfold. I truly enjoyed this book a lot. ( )
  MarkMad | Jul 14, 2021 |
Close to five stars but not fully up to le Carré's best. It treats with 1950's-era cold war espionage, the author's natural milieu, as seen through today's eyes of a retired British MI6 agent who featured in several previous fine novels of this observant author. The agent is recollecting under administrative inquisition a compartmentalized operation decades ago that resulted in the deaths of two valuable assets whose specters have rematerialized. Smoke and mirrors throughout. The ending is realistic if anti-climactic.

Le Carré, once recruited by both MI5 and then MI6, abandoned his illusions about western espionage organizations and is masterful at illustrating the human factor. You sense his surviving personal investment in the services and his misgivings about their ultimate worth when human costs are weighed in the balance, his sympathy for normal frailties of agents and assets who risk their lives for their cause or country, and his disgust at those higher up who are interested foremost in advancing their careers, not merely at the expense of those lives but of their country as well.

I highly recommend, in order of preference:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy*
Smiley's People
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
The Constant Gardener (post-cold war)
and others.
Each one can stand alone. All are well-researched, realistic, easy to read and thrilling.
Are spying and writing similar larcenies?
* The 1979 seven-part BBC television series is much better than the movie. The mole is based on double agent Kim Philby, who blew the covers of le Carré and others, ending le Carré's official career in MI6. ( )
  KENNERLYDAN | Jul 11, 2021 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
le Carré, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Östergren, KlasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hollander, TomNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one. Attributed to Heidegger
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What follows is a truthful account, as best I am able to provide it, of my role in the British deception operation, codenamed Windfall, that was mounted against the East German Intelligence Service (Stasi) in the late nineteen fifties and early sixties, and resulted in the death of the best British secret agent I ever worked with, and of the innocent woman for whom he gave his life.
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
… sarò una specie di studente fuori corso costretto a prepararsi per un esame che avrebbe dovuto dare già da un pezzo. Di tanto in tanto l'allievo dal talento inespresso sarà trascinato fuori dall'aula per essere interrogato da esaminatori che, nonostante abbiano conoscenze inspiegabilmente inferiori alle sue, passeranno il tempo a torchiarlo. Di tanto in tanto sarà così scioccato dalle sciocchezze che ha commesso in passato da essere tentato di negarle, ma le prove che lo condannano usciranno dalla sua stessa bocca.
La scrivania a cui sono seduto non è affatto una scrivania, ma un tavolo con i cavalletti sistemato nel bel mezzo della biblioteca, come la forca per un condannato a morte in piazza. Le librerie alle pareti sono sparite; restano, sulla carta da parati in rilievo, alcune tracce della loro presenza, come ombre delle sbarre di una cella.
Quando la verità vi raggiunge, non fate gli eroi: scappate.
Visto alla luce della lampada a olio, il suo viso scavato appare contorto per l'età e la sofferenza. La sua schiena sbilenca si appoggia alla modesta tappezzeria. I torturati sono una classe di persone a sé stante. Si possono fare ipotesi su dove sono stati, ma mai su quello che hanno riportato indietro.
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"The undisputed master returns with a riveting new book--his first Smiley novel in more than twenty-five years Peter Guillam, staunch colleague and disciple of George Smiley of the British Secret Service, otherwise known as the Circus, is living out his old age on the family farmstead on the south coast of Brittany when a letter from his old Service summons him to London. The reason? His Cold War past has come back to claim him. Intelligence operations that were once the toast of secret London, and involved such characters as Alec Leamas, Jim Prideaux, George Smiley and Peter Guillam himself, are to be scrutinized by a generation with no memory of the Cold War and no patience with its justifications. Interweaving past with present so that each may tell its own intense story, John le Carre has spun a single plot as ingenious and thrilling as the two predecessors on which it looks back:The Spy Who Came in from the ColdandTinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In a story resonating with tension, humor and moral ambivalence, le Carre and his narrator Peter Guillam present the reader with a legacy of unforgettable characters old and new"--

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