Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a novel about ex-spymaster George Smiley’s efforts to uncover the double agent responsible for virtual collapse of the British Intelligence Service in the Cold War era.
Smiley had been forced out of the Circus, the British spy agency at which he’d been Control’s number 2, when a group of four young men rose to leadership and Control himself died.
When the novel opens, Smiley has been called out of retirement to find out which of the four is the double agent. His isn’t a cloak-and-dagger job, but a tedious search for patterns in data.
The excitement in the novel, which the film version probably captures far better than print, is provided mainly through characters’ recollections of what happened years before.
Tinker swings between then and now, telling about characters with multiple names and identities, which made me long for one of the whiteboards seen in police procedurals with photos and brief descriptions of the characters.
In his introduction to the 1991 paperback edition, John le Carré tells of the difficulties he had plotting Tinker and his sense that the story was already regarded as historical fiction.
Today it feels about as dated as When Knighthood Was in Flower.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
Penguin Books [paper] © 1974, 381 p.
1974 bestseller #4. My grade: B
© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni