Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, John LeCarré (Alfred A. Knopf, 1974)

Grade: A — Great book, must read regardless of what Genres you enjoy.  Makes you think of things beyond the scope of the book. 

In brief:

The best, most realistic espionage novel ever written, bar none.  Far from the action thrillers spy story, this is a tense and gripping mystery.  For those of you who have never heard of it, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy follows the search for a mole inside of British Intelligence. Indeed, it is this story that introduced the term mole to the general public.  It remains one of my absolute favorite books.  


The Cold War, mostly in Europe, mostly the UK(and most mostly Southern England, most most mostly in and around London, but with bits in Cornwall).

In Depth:

Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy is John LeCarre‘s (a.k.a. David Cornwall) masterpiece. Set at the height of the Cold War,[1] this tense search for a double agent inside British Intelligence serves as the very definition of a good espionage novel. Based loosely on the events surround the now infamous Cambridge Spy Ring (Philby, Blake and all that), it follows the meticulous search for a mole by a disgraced agent: George Smiley, a small, pudgy man with the nervous habit of cleaning his eye glasses with his tie.

George is a brilliant character, if somewhat unromantic.  His memory and analytical abilities are remarkable, but women do not find him particularly attractive, and his wife is constantly fooling around on him.  Indeed, the parallels between the shabby way that Anne (his wife) and the way the Circus (British Intelligence… presumably MI6), treat him show a somewhat clear symbolic correlation between the two.  This correlation is not, however, a hit-you-over-the-head symbolism, but rather artfully done.

The story opens with Control (the Head of the Circus) sending an agent named Jim Prideaux to Czechoslovakia in order to discover the identity of a mole planted high up inside British Intelligence.  There are four likely candidates, each code named after the nursery rhyme that lends the book its title.  Sadly, the mission goes terribly wrong and we soon find our following George Smiley through the streets of London in his forced retirement.  It seems that the Prideaux affair brought down Control and since Smiley was his right hand man, it brought down Smiley with him.  It does not take long, however for other evidence against the mole to present itself, and soon Smiley is recruited to ferret out the traitor.

From there we follow Smiley and his small team of off the record investigators trying to discover which of the remaining top men at the Circus is the double agent.  It is a brilliantly tense search of a style you seldom get in spy novels anymore, one that speaks of the real world, yet keeps one on the edge of your seat.  If you’re looking for a Bondesque spy adventure, go elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a brilliant book, buy this one.  

[1] Unless you (perhaps justifiably) view the Cuban Missile Crisis at the height of the Cold War, in which case, it’s after that.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Chronicle, Espionage, Mystery, Saga, Series, Stand Alone Novel, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Thoughtful Espionage Tale and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, John LeCarré (Alfred A. Knopf, 1974)

  1. Pingback: Watch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy | The Movie Freak

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