Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carré

Le Carré is a luminary of a generation past. He was the master espionage-thriller writer of the Cold War, and Tinker, Tailor, with its sequels, is generally regarded as among his most exemplary works. Like Graham Greene, he himself had served as an agent of the British Secret Service, and knew whereof he wrote. In some ways this is a disadvantage: he gets astonishingly bogged down in operational and organizational details. These are, admitedly, integral to the tangled plot he’s weaving, but at times it’s a rough slog getting to the actual meat of a narrative episode, through reams of jargon and the huge number of incidental characters. Given the huge cast, it’s actually surprising how effectively le Carré characterizes most of the characters: they’re drawn in quick brush-strokes but faithful to their established characterizations and mannerisms. The central mystery of the story is engrossing but unevenly presented: information arrives in fits and starts, and it’s easy for an unwary reader to get through a block of reminiscences and still miss the vital clues. This story is very much one that doesn’t hold the reader’s hand: the revelations are clear to George Smiley, and might be clear to a reader on the second time through, but on many occasions I found myself missing the vital conclusion drawn from a particular narrative segment.

See also: Wikipedia.

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About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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