“Who spies the spies?” It is an eternal question that John Le Carre’ poses through “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. For British Secret Intelligence Service, the answer to this question is George Smiley, who resembles a retired professor, a clerk, an accountant, in fact anybody but a spy. He is ordinarily extraordinary, one of the last remnants of those quiet, shy, inscrutable creatures who formed the bastion of the empire protecting it covertly and preferring to remain nameless.
George Smiley is a deeply troubled man. His mentor “Control”, the legendary chief of British Secret Intelligence aka “Circus” is dead. Control was convinced that there is a highly placed Soviet mole inside Circus and was frantically trying to expose him. He narrowed down the list to four (nicknamed Tinker, Tailor, Soldier and Spy) and organised an operation in Czechoslovakia to find out the traitor. But the Czechoslovakian operation is blown apart and Control dies a disgraced man. In the new regime George Smiley finds himself out on the grass, unceremoniously booted out. Then arrives Ricky Tarr, a defector secret agent of Circus with the same accusation but this time corroborated by his Russian source. The Whitehall mandarins invite George Smiley to investigate.
I picked up this novel after reading good reviews about the movie and wanted to read the book first. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a classic Le Carre’. Sure, the emotional tangles that made “The spy who came in from the cold” and “The Constant Gardner” stand apart are missing but I am not complaining. TTSP is out and out a spy thriller but the world of spies that Le Carre’ describes is so unlike the one we normally read about or see in movies. The plot is complex and needs an alert reading. Le Carre’, himself an ex agent understands this shadowy world very well and the same reflects in his writing. He spins a knotty cobweb of plots and subplots and the mystery moves to and fro in current time and flashbacks. Le Carre’ liberally uses the jargons of his trade and it is a delight to read the byzantine machination of running a spy network or setting up an operation. Reading “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is like a watching chess game between two grandmasters. It is a battle of wits and the action is psychological as most of the time Smiley keeps wading his way through reams and reams of data trying to unearth the footprints of the elusive traitor.
A note of caution for those who like fast, action packed thrillers. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” is slow, too slow at times and even though there is action and sex, it is minimal and Le Carre’ is not graphic. The story is focused on the mental duel between Smiley and his nemesis Karla, the Soviet intelligence operative and sprinkled with so much jargons that sometimes you have to pause and connect the dots before moving ahead.
This is first book in the Karla Trilogy and I am already half way through the next book “The Honourable Schoolboy” and enjoying it. Do watch the movie as well. Watching it immediately after reading the book was fun as the characters leapt straight out of the pages in front of me. It is a very competent adaptation so no wonders that it made to Oscars under The Best Adapted Screenplay category.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time.
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