Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
by John le Carré
Format: Kindle (AZW)
If you’re looking for the fast-paced spy thriller, le Carré isn’t the writer for you. If, however, you are more than a bit tired of the James Bond gadget-fests where the spy is the dashing fellow who seduces plenty of ladies along the way, all in the services of HRH the Queen, you will quite enjoy this slow-burn psychological thriller.
As per the recently released film, I was picturing Gary Oldman as George Smiley (despite le Carré’s description of Smiley as an overweight, unsexy middle-aged man; Oldman could never NOT be sexy!), and enjoyed following his quest to unravel the mystery of the mole within the Circus (aka the British intelligence agency).
This is a great spy book because of its decidedly psychological aspects, without the tiresome psychoanalyzing of characters that many equate with “psychological thrillers.” We don’t need Hannibal Lecter offering his professional opinions to see what makes these characters tick; le Carré gives us all the facts as Smiley discovers them, and we work the puzzle at his side. More Sherlock Holmes deduction and careful recreation of the inner workings of the Circus help to unravel the mystery here, showing what real intelligence and spy games actually look like — and cost their participants.
While we may never be secret agents living double lives, le Carré assumes we’ve all got secrets of our own, and therefore intrinsically understand the nature of double dealing, on some level. More interesting is the way that these men lead quiet lives of desperation, each struggling with their own versions of official history, particularly after many of them have been thrown out of the service to which they’ve dedicated their lives.
A compelling read, and highly recommended for those interested in the spy/thriller genre. I look forward to reading more of le Carré’s work in the future, as well as a Graham Greene novel in a similar vein (The Human Factor–unfortunately not currently available in Kindle format in the U.S.) recommended to me by a fan. (LR)