Yup, you spotted it, this is the George Smiley trilogy or sometimes named The Karla Trilogy.  I love them, I have no clue how many times I have read them, I have no clue how many times I have bought copies of the books, all I can say is that LeCarre writes books that each time you read them you learn something new.

UPS dropped off a surprise package a hardback containing Tinker Tailor Solder Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People. Yes this is the core of George Smiley. What’s not to love about the Cold War and Spy’s? In many ways I am surprised that LeCarre (David Cornwall) managed to squeak by the censors. No sex or violence it was the story line and the Official Secrets Act that got in the way. Peter Wright attempted to publish Spy Catcher and was quickly shut down. Odd really, Spymaster and Tinker Tailor are the same story, one is published as fact and one as fiction. Peter Wright took flight and published his book in Australia. For a number of years it was banned in the UK. Peter died a bitter man, he felt betrayed by his country.

The stories that both authors talk about concern the infamous spy ring knows as the Cambridge Five, but only four have been identified, Kim Philby, Donald MacLean, Guy Burgess, and Anthony Blunt. There is lots of conjecture of who the fifth man might be, but that is not relevant to this article.

Lets get back to George Smiley. Le Carre had taken his creation George Smiley out for a couple of test runs before Tinker Tailor. Smiley was front and center in Call For The Dead, and A Murder Of Quality. Both books are a short read, and well worth the effort. Le Carre has developed his character. It is time for George Smiley to hit the big time.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has George Smiley retired and grumpy. His wife Anne, lady Anne Sercomb has deserted him for a Cuban race car driver and once again has taken the lions share of his monthly pension. Smiley might be ‘out of the game’ but knows when the ‘game’ is being played and he is part of it. Someone is trying to find him, and George is not in the mood to be found. Returning to his home in Bywater Street the stalker is found, it is none other than his old protégé Peter Guillam. And so starts a wonderful adventure.

I am a fan of Le Carre but he occasionally misses the target, well for me anyway. It took me 10 years to read the Naive And Sentimental Lover. I would get 50 or 60 pages in and give up. A good book needs what is called a hook. The hook have to come early and gives the reader a reason to continue reading. The Smiley trilogy also has a weak spot, The Honourable Schoolboy. The first time I read it, I was convinced that it was on the ‘done pile’ and would not darken my eyeballs again.

I suspect I was not the only person that shared the same thought. The BBC produced a mini series of book one, Tinker Tailor and book three Smiley’s People. The Honourable Schoolboy was the bastard stepchild. No one has ever done anything with it. I have now read The Honourable Schoolboy several times and even listened to it, the audio book version is available for free on YouTube. There is merit in the book, but unlike Tinker Tailor or Smiley’s People that move with the fast paced grace of a big cat stalking its prey, The Honourable Schoolboy on the other hand just lumbers along with the grace of an elephant climbing a mountain.

I have spent many hours contemplating what went wrong with this book. Possibly too little Smiley is one thought, but Le Carre pulled that off with no problem in The Spy That Came In From The Cold. Smiley is a bit player. The Honourable Schoolboy has great lead characters in Jerry Westerby and Old Craw. But somehow Le Carre lets them escape. Jerry and Craw are both somewhat lumbering characters and maybe that spilled over into the book and its focus.

In Smiley’s People the fast pace returns. Once again George is unwillingly forced out of retirement. The mission is simple, a one time agent long since retired is found shot. “Vladimer was of your generation George, all we ask of you is to tidy up any loose ends”. Needless to say, the loose ends are more difficult than paying an outstanding gas and phone bill. A janitorial task quickly evolves into what is Smiley’s Holy Grail, to bring the downfall of his Soviet nemesis known only as Karla.

What a fabulous gift. I was so excited to receive it. I plan on sitting in my office (the front porch) and once again enjoying George Smiley and his friends and enemies. That will lead me to revisit the other Smiley books, A Small Town In Germany and The Looking Glass War.

For those that are curious, but don’t have the inclination to read, both Tinker Tailor and Smiley’s people are available on YouTube. Alec Guinness plays Smiley and even Le Carre thinks that the choice was perfect.

Simon Barrett

Be Sociable, Share!