Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carre

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpyThe truth is, if old Major Dover hadn't dropped dead at Taunton Races Jim would never have come to Thursgood's at all.

"The man he knew as "Control" is dead, and the young Turks who forced him out now run the Circus. But George Smiley isn't quite ready for retirement—especially when a pretty, would-be defector surfaces with a shocking accusation: a Soviet mole has penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence. Relying only on his wits and a small, loyal cadre, Smiley recognizes the hand of Karla—his Moscow Centre nemesis—and sets a trap to catch the traitor."

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was such a complex, ingenious, and at times confusing mystery and espionage thriller, set during the Cold War in England. Our main character is George Smiley, a once retired spy who doesn't stay that way for long. But the first chapter opens not with him, but a somewhat (though not extremely) strange temporary teacher at a boarding school. The writing at the very beginning drew me in, but I was confused; I wasn't sure what Jim Prideaux had to with the high level British intelligence. However, that's what's so ingenious about the book; there are these details and subplots that don't seem to have any relevance whatsoever; then le Carre weaves them deftly into the high stakes story, even though you may have to wait a little bit to figure out their significance. As the first chapter progressed, one could tell that something is not right about Prideaux; he has all this knowledge of crime and at one point he snaps an owl's neck very quickly and easily, something that only a gamekeeper could do, according to one of the boys at the school. 

Other aspects of the book can be confusing and overwhelming too; there are so many different characters in the spy agency, and it's sometimes difficult to sort out who they are and what their roles are. And any of them could be the Russian mole. You can't rule out any one, making the book very electric and very suspenseful. There were almost too many characters, I would say. There's also a lot of technical spy terminology, which is mostly explained and in depth, but some of the lingo wasn't; the reader has to figure out what it means. As the book progressed, a lot more of what was happening went over my head; kind of like The Thin Man and noir fiction, except even more confusing. I still managed to enjoy the book. 

At times, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was a bit dense in terms of its explanations and intrigues, but it was nonetheless very gripping in its way, although not the kind of book that's hard to put down (at least for me). There's so much going on, yet the book proceeds at a leisurely pace; it's fairly long and doesn't feel rushed at all. In fact, some parts of the book almost felt like they moved too slow considering that fact that Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy is a thriller, albeit a smart one. 

There's not a whole lot of actually violence; after all, it wasn't called the Cold War for nothing. The book mainly centers on intrigue, power play within departments, espionage, and lots and lots of betrayal. The British are trying to find out what the Russians are up to in terms of weapons development, and vice versa. All without being caught. 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy wasn't a great book, and half the time I had no idea what the heck was going on, but the skillful writing still drew me in. I was also kind of distracted while I was reading the book, because Crown of Midnight had just arrived in the mail.

381 pages. 

Rating: ****

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