I actually make a bit of a point of not reading the best selling authors, as a reviewer I think my efforts are better spent on promoting the latest generation of writers. There is however one best selling author that I cannot resist, John Le Carre. While his later books are fine, without doubt my favorites are the ones from the 60’s and 70’s. The Cold War was raging, and Le Carre was the king pin of the Cold War spy novel. Oh, this was no James Bond martini spy, Le Carre’s characters are always slightly seedy. Nasty enough that you likely would not want to invite many of his characters to your home, and you certainly would not want your daughter dating them.

Several of John Le Carre’s books have been turned into movies and TV mini series. I want to spotlight just a few, and talk about both the book, and where appropriate the movee adaptation.

A great place to start with Le Carre is with his first two books, Call For The Dead, and A Murder Of Quality. I say books but they were Novellas, both are under 150 pages, and an easy read in a couple of hours. They do however lay the groundwork for his next adventures. It is through these Novellas that we meet Le Carre’s finest character, George Smiley. Smiley is an unassuming slightly overweight and socially inept man. His mind though, is sharper than a razor. His exact position is a little of a quandary, he is involved with the British Secret Service, although officially he claims that he is lowly employee of the Treasury.

In Call For The Dead Smiley is asked to investigate a bizarre case of what looks like suicide, but is it? And even if it is, there is the all important question of why?

A Murder Of Quality takes us on a different track, there is no doubt that a murder has occurred. But, it has happened on the hallowed grounds of a very prestigious privvae school. In the book it is called Carne, but, I will let you into a little secret, for several years John Le Carre was a teacher at the most prestigious private school in England, no less than Eton.

Both of these books are now back in print. Both are fabulous examples of how to confront a complex plot in only a small number of words. An art that many other popular writers seem to have lost. These two books firmly established Le Carre as a writing force, although neither, sadly has been adapted to the silver screen. I am sure that Le Carre has been approached on this subject, and I can even hazard a guess or two about it. George Smiley came alive when the amazing Alex Guinness started to portray him. Le Carre himself has commented many times that Alec Guinness is the consummate George Smiley. Time waits for no man, and it was impossible to use Alec Guinness in the role of the younger George.

Le Carre really hit the ground running when he released The Spy That Came In From The Cold. This was a complex story concerning the life of the ‘has been’ spy. This 60’s opus was quickly picked up by the studios, and in 1965 it hit the silver screen. No expense was spared in casting and the lead character Alec Leamas is played by Richard Burton. If you have not seem the movie, I can recommend it. Better still, read the book, and then watch the movie. Le Carre has always been picky about movie adaptations of his work, and he ensured that production of The Spy That Came In From The Cold held true to the story line.

The early 70’s saw the release of what many consider the Smiley Trilogy. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley’s People.

I think I will save the trilogy for part two. I have written enough already. If you have not discovered this great author, now is the time.

Simon Barrett

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