Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy wasn’t one of the most commonly listed ‘books to read before you die’ but I added it to The List because I thought it sounded like one that I’d enjoy. I’m a big fan of thrillers, crime fiction and spy films so this is right up my alley in terms of genre, and it didn’t disappoint.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is technically the fifth in the series of le Carré novels that feature George Smiley as the lead character, a brilliant and fairly unassuming intelligence officer in the British Secret Service during the 1970s. This novel, however, makes up the first of a trilogy contained within these “Smiley novels” as they are called, and is probably the most well-known and popular of le Carré’s books.
The plot is complex, as any Cold War spy story might be expected to be, and centres around Smiley’s efforts to discover a Russian mole at the very top of the British Secret Service (called The Circus). High level operations have been compromised by information passed by the mole to Russian intelligence, and Smiley has the task of identifying which, out of four senior officers – Bill Haydon, Percy Alleline, Toby Esterhause and Roy Bland – is the culprit. We follow Smiley from discovery of the initial information that leads him to embark on this enquiry, through his covert investigation of past operations, conversations and meetings to the trap set to catch the traitor once and for all.
We are fully submerged in the world of the 1970s secret service, complete with all the appropriate jargon and enhanced by great story telling. Le Carré does a fantastic job of creating this world, using his experience in MI5 & MI6 to authenticate his writing. The plot moves swiftly, but with a huge amount of depth to the narrative. There is a lot of story-telling from various characters revisiting their past experiences, so it can sometimes be confusing which time period or cast of players you are interacting with at any one time. You have to pay attention but as long as you give it the dedication that it deserves, the reward is great indeed.
I just loved the thrill of the discovery – as already mentioned, investigative / crime stories are some of my favourite books for this very reason. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was even better because it evoked this incredible nostalgia for a time gone by (despite me never having lived in that era). I’m a big history fan and love anything that is set ‘back in time’ so that just added another level to the book for me: the references to old school tradecraft, microfilm and dead drops made me feel like I was discovering another world and it was fascinating. Equally, dealing with the world of espionage vs. the more common backdrop of police and detectives just elevated the whole book into a much more exciting experience.
For me, this book was great. It’s inspired me to read a lot more Le Carré (I can vouch for both The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and A Legacy of Spies at this stage as being equally enjoyable). Definitely would read again.
Star Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥