In Part 1 I took a look at some of John Le Carre’s work in the 1960’s, and how he gained both the interest of the reader and also the theater goer. In Part 2 I took you into the Le Carre of the 1970’s, and in particular the zenith of his main character George Smiley.

The 80’s saw a significant shift in direction. The Cold War was at an end, and John Le Carre looked for more fertile pastures. While I still very much enjoyed his books, I have to admit that I did indeed miss George Smiley.

1983 saw the release of his first book of the decade, The Little Drummer Girl. The backdrop to this story being international terrorism. The 1984 film adaptation stared Diane Keeting in the leading role of Charlie, a struggling actress. Although the protagonists are middle eastern this is by no means am Al Qaeda inspired book. The plot involves an Israeli spy master Martin Kurtz and his hunt for Khalil, a Palestinian bomb maker who is targeting Jewish interests in Europe. This is a fascinating book, as not only does it follow the hunt, but it also operates on a much deeper level exploring what can only be described as brain washing.

Charlie is co-opted and coerced into helping the Mosad in their hunt. She becomes part of a ‘legend’ being created by Kurtz to infiltrate the terrorist organization.

1986 saw the release of a very introspective book, A Perfect Spy. I am not sure that I would rate this as one of Le Carre’s finest works, for me it was a little too reflective. It has been said that it was inspired by Le Carre’s relationship with his own father. I was somewhat surprised that the BBC optioned it and produced a TV adaptation. Our main protagonist is Magnus Pym, a double agent, and one so well schooled in the art of deception that it is unclear at times just which side of the fence he is on. He finds himself gaught between the east and west. The TV adaptation stars Petter Egan in this difficult role.

Some people have called this book somewhat inaccessible, and to a certain extent I am in agreement. It is a Le Carre that needs care and attention when reading. In some ways I liken it to his 1971 book The Naïve and Sentimental Lover, which is definitely not for the Le Carre beginner! It took me almost a decade to plow through it. I would get 50 pages into it and put it back on the shelf for a year or two! When I finally did mange to finish it I found it was a worthwhile endeavor, but one that needs to be tackled while in the right mind set.

He rounded out the decade with The Russia House, this was almost a return to his roots. Once more the waring factions are Great Britain and Russia. This book was an instant success and was imediatly optioned for a movie. Once again the big guns came out and starred Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, in the 1990 release.

The main character is Bartholomew “Barley” Scott Blair,  a publisher who regualarly plies his wares in the Moscow book fairs. In-keeping with so many of Le Carre’s characters Barley is an anti hero. For the most part he is a hard drinking lush. In fact if you read almost any Le Carre book you will find Barley in one shape or another. Barley finds himself falling for a pretty Russian girl, and in doing so enters into the murky world of espionage. A world that he is ill equipped to handle.

In Part 4 we will look at Le Carre in the 90’s, and how he changes direction once again.

Simon Barrett

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