From the vault: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Book Review

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the 1974 espionage thriller written by John le Carre, perhaps one of the most well regarded authors in the spy genre.

Set against a backdrop of 1960’s cold-war tension, it follows the retired and revered spy, George Smiley as he attempts to uncover a soviet mole implanted in the highest levels of British Secret Intelligence.

Le Carre, himself a former intelligence officer whose career was ended due to the real life soviet mole Kim Philby , draws on personal experience to paint a realistic picture of the British Intelligence community, including its far less glamorous side of bureaucracy and political maneuvering.

Indeed, those going into Tinker, Tailor expecting a James Bond like spy thriller will be disappointed. Tinker, Tailor is not about martinis and fast cars, it is about information and intelligence. In this sense it is more of detective novel set within the context of a rich but often dark world of spies and secrecy.

The reader is never spoonfed the plot. There is no neat summary of the facts, no concluding synopsis. In many ways the reader is placed in the same position as George Smiley: presented with the information and left to determine how it fits or why it is relevant.  This makes the story much more engaging, as rather than being a passive audience, the reader is forced to act as detective.

While intricate and complicated, the story is not dense. Chapters are short and punchy, and it is quite easy to flip back to follow up on a point that may have been missed or a piece of information that was disregarded.  This rare achievement makes Tinker, Tailor a far less daunting read than would be expected.

George Smiley is a recurring character of many Le Carre novels. Pudgy, bespectacled and perpetually middle aged, at first glance Tinker, Tailor’s mole hunter might come across as quite boring. This could not be further from the truth. George Smiley remains one of my favorite characters of fiction. Intimately sculpted by Le Carre over time, Smiley is both a complex  and admirable character. Stoic and taciturn, analytical and calculated, with an intense focus and eye for detail, Smiley is described as having “the cunning of Satan and the conscience of a virgin”.

Both Gary Oldman and Alec Guinness have faithfully portrayed George Smiley

Le Carre himself is a beautiful and talented writer and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is nothing short of a modern classic. Highly recommended reading for anyone with an interest in a realistic portrayal of the world of espionage or looking for an intelligent and challenging thriller.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy can be purchased here

Check out the Gary Oldman film here.

Or, go back and check out the excellent Alec Guinness series here.


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